Friday May 22nd, 2009

"It's called The Geno for a reason," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said of the eponymous play on which center Evgeni Malkin finished his hat trick.

After taking the draw midway through the third period, the big-bodied center pushed forward, picked up the puck on his stick and swept around the net. With Tim Gleason glued to his back, Malkin wrapped around the goal, and back facing the net, he backhanded the puck up past Gleason, past Carolina goalie Cam Ward and to the top shelf, giving the Penguins the two-goal cushion they so desperately searched for all game. And with that insurance, Pittsburgh put away the Hurricanes 7-4 (RECAP | BOX) in Mellon Arena to take a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

"[Malkin] played like he was possessed," Penguins winger Bill Guerin said. "I really think tonight, he played a determined game."

With the relentless Hurricanes continually fighting back, tying up the game on three different occasions, Malkin finally took matters into his own hands. He made himself a force on every shift, whether that meant going hard to the net, using his body to protect the puck or being quick on the rush.

"Every time he's out there, he's making something happen," captain Sidney Crosby said. "[And] it wasn't always the same way."

Some three minutes before the hats came raining down on the highlight reel backhander, Malkin netted the decisive goal, punching in a rebound up close. He finished with a game-high eight shots and four points, and even a bit of a fight (with Chad LaRose midway through the second period). With his performance Thursday night, he has quieted any critic that has questioned Malkin's heart in the playoffs.

"He wants to be out there," said center Maxime Talbot, whose second period goal tied it up at 3-3. "Even when it's 6-4, 7-4, he wanted to go back on the ice. Even when the game got chippy toward the end, he wanted to play."

It was almost as if his performance said: Hey, remember me? The league's leading scorer, Hart Trophy finalist, and wonder with the puck. It's almost laughable that we ever could've forgotten.

• One-timers aren't always a Hurricane's friend. Sure, Dennis Seidenberg scored on a blast from the point in the first period, but twice later in the game, Carolina misplayed one-timers, which led to huge scoring chances the other way. With about four minutes left in the second, the score tied, Canes forward Sergei Samsonov whiffs on a slapshot, opening up the ice for Penguins winger Craig Adams to break away.

• Pittsburgh's Chris Kunitz breaks through, scoring his first goal in 22 playoff games. That dates back to the 2007 postseason, when he and the Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup. The winger, linemate of Crosby and Bill Guerin, has been aching for a score. "Personally, it's all good to finally get it done," he said. With the final seconds of the second period ticking away, Kunitz flips a wrister from the left circle through a visibly fatigued Carolina defensive corps that were on the back end of a long shift. And Kunitz can thank the man of the night Malkin for that. His ability to protect the puck as the Hurricanes chased him around the offensive zone set it all up. Though Malkin was on the bench when the puck hit the twine, he gets assist 2b on that goal, too.

• With an extra day off in between Games 1 and 2, who could blame either team for making it a track meet for the first 20 minutes? Between them, the 'Canes and Pens had 26 shots and five goals in the first frame alone. Crosby opened the scoring with a goal 1:51 into the game. It was the sixth playoff game where the captain broke the ice, tying an NHL record. But Carolina kept bouncing back, immediately answering each of Pittsburgh's first two goals. Bylsma warned that this series would come down to momentum shifts, and for the first period, the Hurricanes wouldn't let that swing in Pittsburgh's favor.

• This is Ward's first Game 2 loss of his career. The goalie stopped 35 of Pittsburgh's 42 shots in the losing effort. Of course, it's a small sample size, but Ward and the 'Canes have never had to work their way out of an 0-2 rut.

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