RALEIGH, N.C. -- There is every reason to believe the Penguins will win the Eastern Conference final for the second year in a row.
Whether they should count on doing it tonight, when they face Carolina in Game 4 of the series at the RBC Center, is another matter.
In the first two rounds, the Penguins needed two tries to eliminate Philadelphia and Washington, each time failing to do it on home ice.
The setting will be different tonight. The Penguins would like to make sure that the outcome is, too.
"We've had a chance a couple of times to put teams away and haven't done it, so we have to learn from that," center Sidney Crosby said yesterday. "Make sure our desperation's there. We don't want to waste any time."
The Hurricanes feed off the energy of the RBC Center crowd, so the Penguins' chances of sweeping Carolina could be enhanced if they are able to prevent the Hurricanes from generating early momentum.
"If we can have a good start, we can really crush a lot of the hope that they do have," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "Get it in their heads early that maybe they don't have a chance."
The Penguins aren't numb to the spectacular things Evgeni Malkin does in the offensive zone -- although they might start to be any day now -- but other things he does seem to make even more of an impression at times.
His collision with Carolina center Matt Cullen in the neutral zone with about 3Â 1/2 minutes to go in the Penguins' 6-2 victory in Game 3 Saturday is a good example.
"The hit he gave at the end of the game proves that he's playing in every situation, not just offensively," defenseman Kris Letang said.
"He can play defensively, he can hit, he can be a complete player."
Word is beginning to circulate that the league office -- apparently concerned about the reaction to more than a week-long break after the conference finals -- is leaning toward having the Cup final start Saturday if the Penguins win tonight and Detroit defeats Chicago tomorrow.
Previously, the league had announced a plan under which, unless both conference finals ended in a sweep, the first game of the Cup final would not be played until Friday June 5.
If the Penguins and Red Wings advance, it will mark the first time since 1984, when Edmonton defeated the New York Islanders after losing to them the previous year, that the same teams met in consecutive Cup finals.
Such a rematch also happened in 1977-78 (Montreal, Boston), 1968-69 (Montreal, St. Louis), 1963-64 (Toronto, Detroit), 1959-60 (Montreal, Toronto), 1957-58 (Boston, Montreal), 1954-56 (Detroit, Montreal), 1948-49 (Toronto, Detroit) and 1932-33 (Toronto, New York Rangers).
Max Talbot, playing right wing on Malkin's line lately, failed to capitalize on a couple of sensational scoring chances Malkin gave him in Game 3.
"It's obviously frustrating when you miss a couple of chances," Talbot said yesterday. "But you have to stay upbeat and, actually take the positive out of it: That I put myself in situations to have those chances."
Even though he didn't score, Talbot seems in no danger of losing his place on Malkin's wing.
"Max knows his job on that line is to forecheck, play in the corners," coach Dan Bylsma said.
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com .