Penguins Notebook: Crosby, Malkin playing at higher level

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Penguins center Sidney Crosby is the leading scorer in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Not by a point or two, but by a technicality.

Crosby will enter the Stanley Cup final with 28 points on 14 goals and 14 assists. Teammate Evgeni Malkin also has 28, but has 12 goals and 16 assists.

Because goals are the tiebreaker in such matter, Crosby has the oh-so-slight edge.

"Sid and [Malkin] have been so dominant," left winger Matt Cooke said.

After what they did to help make the Penguins' sweep of Carolina in the Eastern Conference final possible -- Malkin had six goals and three assists, Crosby two goals and five assists -- the Hurricanes aren't likely to argue the point.

Especially when Carolina center Eric Staal was limited to one goal and one assist and left winger Ray Whitney managed just two assists.

"Our best players played better than their best players," Penguins forward Max Talbot said.

That has been the case a lot in these playoffs. Often enough that it obviously isn't a fluke or coincidence.

"They're two of the best players in the league," Carolina goalie Cam Ward said. "A lot of times when you make mistakes against other teams, you can get away with it. If it's an odd-man rush, maybe they'll shoot and miss the net, but with Pittsburgh, it seemed like every time they had an opportunity, they buried it. That's because they have high-quality players on their team, and they know how to finish."

The Hurricanes managed to shut out Malkin in the Penguins' 4-1 series-clincher Tuesday at the RBC Center in Raleigh, but he had been virtually unstoppable the previous three games.

"Maybe in years past, Malkin hasn't tried as hard as he's trying now," Hurricanes defenseman Joe Corvo said. "He seems to have obviously stepped up his game."

Taken it higher, by most accounts, than at any other point in his NHL career.

"I can't remember a time when he's played better," Penguins defenseman Mark Eaton said. "He always plays pretty well, but he's taking it to another level in these playoffs, and particularly this series. Sid's right there, too."

Living a dream

Dan Bylsma of the Penguins is the first coach to begin a season coaching an American Hockey League team and finish it by leading an NHL club to the Stanley Cup final.

The Penguins were 27-25-5 when he was brought in from their minor league team in Wilkes-Barre to replace Michel Therrien Feb. 15. The Penguins went on to finish the regular season with an 18-3-4 surge, and have eliminated Philadelphia, Washington and Carolina in the playoffs.

Understandably, Bylsma hasn't had much time to reflect on all that has happened the past 3 1/2 months, but he does appreciate just how remarkable recent events have been, for himself and the franchise.

"I'd be remiss if I didn't feel fortunate and blessed with how things have progressed for me," he said. "This time last year, or in July, when [former Wilkes-Barre coach] Todd Richards went to San Jose to be an assistant coach, I was just hoping to get the head coaching job in Wilkes-Barre for my first chance to be a head coach, let alone thinking that within nine months I'd be coaching the Pittsburgh Penguins and the likes of the players we have here.

"I do often, in the moments when my mind's not on hockey and focused on the task at hand, think, 'Man, I get to coach some of the best players in the world today, in a great situation.' "

Tip-ins

The Penguins signed defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, a third-round choice in the 2007 entry draft, to a three-year, entry-level contract. Bortuzzo, 20, is 6 feet 4, 207 pounds and was limited to 23 games with Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey League this season because of a shoulder injury. He had one goal and 16 assists. ... Bylsma gave the Penguins yesterday off. Their short-term practice plans were not expected to be finalized until after the conclusion of the Detroit-Chicago series in the Western Conference final. ... The Penguins are the first team to make consecutive appearances in the Cup final since New Jersey did it in 2000 and '01.



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