PITTSBURGH – Evgeni Malkin put Pittsburgh ahead for good by scoring twice in the third period of his first three-goal playoff performance and the Penguins beat the Carolina Hurricanes 7-4 Thursday night to open a two-game lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

Sidney Crosby scored a record-tying sixth goal to start a playoff game, yet was upstaged by NHL regular-season scoring leader Malkin during an exceptional performance that also gave Malkin the playoff scoring lead 25-24 over Crosby.

Carolina had won five straight Game 2s, including the first two rounds this spring after losing Game 1 each time, but couldn’t match Pittsburgh’s Mario Lemieux-era like run-and-gun offense despite rallying to tie three times. The Hurricanes will host Game 3 on Saturday night.

Malkin, seemingly motivated by the Hurricanes’ attempts to be more physical with him than usual during the second period, ended a succession of strong shifts by scoring the go-ahead goal that made it 5-4 with 8:50 gone in the third period.

Malkin, relying on his speed and offensive creativity to set up scoring chances on almost every shift in the final period, made it 6-4 less than four minutes later with a one-man goal. He picked up the puck in the corner, carried it behind the net and used a spin move to put a backhander past goalie Cam Ward from a bad angle for his 10th of the playoffs.

As dozens of hats littered the ice, Malkin’s father repeatedly kissed his mother – the parents are visiting from Russia – as Penguins fans cheered them almost as loudly as they did the Malkins’ son.

Ward had won his last five Game 2s, allowing an average of only 1.18 goals per game, but couldn’t handle the repeated flurries by the Penguins, who have scored 29 goals in six games. Tyler Kennedy scored later in the third for Pittsburgh, and Max Talbot and Chris Kunitz added goals, with Kunitz getting his first in 24 games, dating to the regular season.

The Penguins, trying to become the first team since the 1984 Edmonton Oilers to lose in the Stanley Cup finals one season and win the Cup the next, won the first two games at home for the fourth time in six playoff rounds, dating to last season.

Kunitz’s goal with 7.3 seconds remaining in the second gave Pittsburgh a 4-3 lead and was his first in the postseason since May 11, 2007, with Anaheim. The Hurricanes, who came in averaging only 2.3 goals per game, turned to its fourth line to get the goal back as Patrick Eaves scored 2:35 into the third during his third shift of the game.

Carolina stalled after that, unable to match Pittsburgh’s speed or the repeated ability of its stars to find open ice for repeated scoring chances. Not surprisingly, Crosby and Malkin got it started.

Crosby scored his 13th with 1:51 gone – the sixth time he has scored the opening goal in these playoffs. Bobby Hull of the Blackhawks (1962) and Edmonton’s Fernando Pisani in 2006 also had six game-opening goals in a playoff year. Malkin scored slightly more than six minutes later, but Carolina quickly came back each time as Chad LaRose and Jussi Jokinen scored.

Carolina’s Dennis Seidenberg and Pittsburgh’s Max Talbot traded goals ahead of Kunitz’s score.

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