Collier: Malkin, Crosby turn up intensity
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Operating in front of a goaltender with more quivers than last night's Jell-O and a defense that suddenly developed enough yips to jeopardize Marc-Andre Fleury even further, the Penguins made Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final the kind of offensive celebration that perhaps only they can engineer.
Evgeni Malkin got the hat trick, but Sidney Crosby and just about every other aspect of the Penguins' superior firepower exploded along with him to spray six pucks behind Cam Ward -- and one in an empty net -- powering Dan Bylsma's team to a 2-0 lead in the series that resumes tomorrow night along Tobacco Road.
"I think what you got out there was a just a great team effort," said Max Talbot, who beat Ward in the second period to erase Carolina's only lead en route to a 7-4 victory. "I think we really raised our play to another level, because we weren't satisfied with the intensity of Game 1."
The Penguins, whose 31 shots in Game 1 were four below their average, pounded Ward with 41 shots on the net in Game 2. Ten others were blocked. Eleven more missed the net. Chris Kunitz shot one that went in the net for the first time since like 1959. They outshot Carolina by 33 percent (42-28).
"I don't know if we frustrated them; they were battling and both teams got after it really good," said Crosby, who directed this pandemonium. "We're trying to keep the puck down low and create some things, and the longer you can keep it in there the more tired they're gonna get."
Two minutes after they dropped the puck for Game 2, Crosby accepted Kunitz's nifty backhanded crossing pass to the left of the Carolina net and flicked it past Ward for the first of four Penguins leads.
Lest it get lost in last night's little blizzard of offensive hockey, Crosby had to his credit, at that moment, 7:42 p.m., twice as many points in these playoffs as any two Hurricanes.
You read it right.
Of course, you get nothing for that but admiration, but it left the pregame words of Crosby linemate Bill Guerin ringing in the ears.
"He was born for this stuff," Guerin had said. "He's a real leader. People don't know how much of a leader he is. He's the hardest-working guy at practice every day. He's different than everybody. There's something about him that just sets him aside.
"He doesn't take a shift off. When you have someone that talented, that strong, that determined, who just keeps comin' at ya ... "
There was simply no need to complete that thought at that moment, and the right words aren't necessarily sufficient anyway, but the sentiment was clear in the demeanor of Ward near the end of the second period, after Talbot erased the only Penguins deficit of the game with a slapper that trailed sparks from the left-wing circle to the back of the net.
Crosby with the second assist.
Flying down the left wing one on one with Carolina defenseman Joni Pitkanen, Sid wound up for a slapshot, started his swing, halted it, dragged the puck around a puzzled Pitkanen, and backhanded it on net with such authority that Ward nearly jumped out of his skin before controlling it near his navel.
Was it me, or as Ward dropped the puck on the surface to await the next faceoff, could the besieged Carolina goalie be seen shaking his head?
(Crosby's goal further necessitated this bit of bookkeeping. His 13th of the playoffs was the sixth time in the postseason he had rapped in the first goal of the game, tying the all-time NHL playoff record set by Bobby Hull of the Chicago Blackhawks in 1962 and tied by Fernando Pisani of the Edmonton Oilers 44 years later.)
But as the Penguins surrendered lead after lead after lead, 1-0, 2-1, 4-3, every one erased by Hurricane force Carolina offense, it was apparent only that Crosby would have to do more.
So he blasted into the left-wing corner after Joseph Corvo, knocked him off the puck, fell on top of him, scrambled to his feet, whirled away along the half boards until somebody in a white sweater had to do something.
Backchecking center Matt Cullen tripped him, drawing the penalty that invited the Penguins to snap a 4-4 deadlock. Cullen was livid, partly over the call, but just as assuredly with the frustration over Carolina's inability to deal with Crosby in its own end. It was that very frustration, by no argumentative stretch, that left the Hurricanes so overtaxed on defense that there was insufficient energy to deal with a swooping, energized Geno Malkin.
Malkin got the go-ahead goal, stuffing in his own rebound to make it 5-4, then whipped a beauteous backhander by the unraveling Ward for the hat trick.
"He's not the leading scorer in the league for nothing," Talbot said.
And Crosby's not the best player on the planet for nothing either. Together with Bylsma's excellent cast, on night's like last night, they're just an awful lot to overcome.
First Published May 22, 2009 12:00 am