RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - Evgeni Malkin scored two first-period goals as the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Carolina Hurricanes 6-2 to move within one victory of the NHL’s Eastern Conference title on Saturday.
The Penguins, who lead the best-of-seven series 3-0, can return to the Stanley Cup Final for a second successive season with a win in Game Four in Raleigh on Tuesday.
“Everybody wants to play in the Final (again),” Malkin said of the Penguins, who lost 4-2 to the Detroit Red Wings last year.
Malkin, who scored a hat trick against the Hurricanes on Thursday, delivered his 11th and 12th goals of the postseason in the Penguins’ dominant first period. He now has six goals and three assists in the series against Carolina.
“I think I play my best now,” said the Russian center.
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby also tallied in the first as Pittsburgh struck twice in the period’s final 42.2 seconds, Malkin delivering his second 30 seconds later.
“He’s in that zone right now,” Crosby said. “He’s dominant, for sure.”
Ruslan Fedotenko, Craig Adams and Bill Guerin collected Pittsburgh’s other goals, all in the third period after Carolina had moved within 3-2. Matt Cullen and Sergei Samsonov scored for the Hurricanes, who were out-shot 40-34.
Cullen opened the scoring at 4:06 of the busy first with Malkin providing the equalizer less than three minutes later on a power play.
Then, striking like successive bolts of lightning, Crosby and Malkin made it a 3-1 game. Crosby first provided the go-ahead goal and before the sell-out crowd could recover, Malkin found net again.
Carolina, who lost to the Penguins 7-4 on Thursday, pulled within 3-2 on Samsonov’s goal 1:58 into the third but the next three goals belonged to Pittsburgh.
An exchange between Malkin and Fedotenko led to the first, helped, Malkin said, by the pair’s shared knowledge of Russian with his Ukrainian team mate yelling “‘Free! Free!.’”
Editing by Nick Mulvenney