RALEIGH, N.C. -- Craig Adams was not part of the Penguins' team that went to the Stanley Cup final a year ago.
He didn't experience the pain of their six-game loss to Detroit, the frustration of falling two victories shy of a championship.
Which means Adams might be the perfect guy to offer a clinical assessment of why it really doesn't matter if the Penguins get a chance for revenge against the Red Wings, now that they've locked up a spot in the Cup final by sweeping Carolina in the Eastern Conference final.
"You want to win a Stanley Cup," Adams said last night, minutes after the Penguins' 4-1 victory against the Hurricanes in Game 4 at the RBC Center. "It doesn't matter if you're playing Detroit or whoever.
"You don't need any extra motivation at this time of year. Obviously, the guys want to beat them, but I don't think they want to beat them more than if it was somebody else."
The Penguins could learn as early as tonight who they will face in the Cup final and when it will start.
If the Red Wings defeat Chicago in Game 5 of the Western Conference final tonight, they will win that series. If so, Game 1 of the Cup final will be Saturday at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit
If the Blackhawks win tonight to cut Detroit's series lead to 3-2, the start of the Cup final will be pushed back to June 5.
The Penguins are the first team to return to the Cup final after losing it the previous year since Edmonton did it in 1984, when the Oilers won a rematch with the New York Islanders.
They also are the first team to reach the Cup final in consecutive years with different head coaches since the Penguins of 1991 and '92, who did it with Bob Johnson and Scott Bowman behind their bench.
Johnson and Bowman were established -- no, legendary -- coaches by the time they joined the Penguins.
Conversely, Dan Bylsma, who guided them to this final, has been in the NHL for less than 3 1/2 months. But even if he did not touch the Prince of Wales Trophy the Penguins were awarded last night, his fingerprints were all over it.
For when he replaced Michel Therrien in mid-February, the Penguins seemed like a long shot, at best, to get into the playoffs, let alone to be playing for a title.
"With the coaching change, we instantly got confidence and started playing the right way," left winger Matt Cooke said.
And they haven't stopped since.
They've gotten some spectacular individual performances along the way -- Evgeni Malkin, for example, had nine points in the first three games against Carolina, and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 30 of 31 shots last night -- but playing a solid, responsible team game is what got them this far.
FIRST PERIOD/18:31: With the score tied at 1-1, Penguins center Max Talbot pushes the puck into the offensive zone against Carolina defenseman Anton Babchuk. Talbot snaps off a wrist shot that hits Babchuk's stick and flutters into the air. Carolina goaltender Cam Ward seemingly has an easy save, but the puck glances off his glove and into the cage. The freak goal gave the Penguins a lead they would never surrender.
"When you have that much skill and that much tempo, you'd think there'd have to be a down part in the game, but they've been working hard," Carolina forward Scott Walker said. "Defensively, all their guys have been coming back super-hard, and that makes it tough."
Carolina got an early 1-0 lead for the second game in a row -- Eric Staal jammed a shot inside the right post at 1:36 of the opening period -- but the Penguins never were fazed, and Ruslan Fedotenko steered a Philippe Boucher shot behind Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward at 8:21 to tie the score.
Max Talbot got what proved to be the winning goal at 18:31, when he corralled a loose puck just inside the Penguins' blue line, carried it through the neutral zone and into the Hurricanes' end, then took a shot that Carolina defenseman Anton Babchuk blocked.
Although Babchuk took most of the steam out of Talbot's shot, the puck fluttered through the air and over Ward's glove before dropping into the net to put the Penguins up, 2-1.
"You need a lot of skills and talent to put it top-shelf from the top of the circle with a shot like that," Talbot said, smiling. "All skill."
Bill Guerin delivered the kill shot when he converted a Sidney Crosby set-up at 12:10 of the second, and Crosby fed Adams for an empty-netter with 70 seconds left to close out the scoring. And the series.
And to guarantee the Penguins an encore performance on hockey's greatest stage.
"We know that they've got a special opportunity to go at it again," Crosby said. "And we want to take full advantage of it."
Dave Molinari can be reached at email@example.com . First Published May 27, 2009 4:00 AM