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(Saturday, April 27th)
Final Score: Pittsburgh 8, Carolina 3
Pittsburgh, PA (Sports Network) - James Neal notched his third career hat trick as the Pittsburgh Penguins capped an excellent regular season with an 8-3 rout of the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Penguins went 36-12-0 on the season to finish as the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference and will open the playoffs hosting either the New York Islanders or Ottawa Senators.
Carolina, meanwhile, dropped 19 of its final 23 games of the campaign and finished 13th in the Eastern Conference. Before the momentous slide, the Hurricanes were sitting first in the Southeast Division, which was won by Washington.
Evgeni Malkin posted a goal and two assists while Marc-Andre Fleury made 27 stops for the Penguins, who snapped a two-game slide.
"We came out with that real strong third period," said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. "In addition to that, I thought the special teams, power play and penalty kill, were on for detail and were doing their thing. Both of those things we were hoping for in this game."
Keith Westgarth scored twice and Tuomo Ruutu also lit the lamp for the Hurricanes, who saw Justin Peters give up all eight goals on 35 shots.
"The guys pushed hard right to the end but we just got out-played there," said Carolina head coach Kirk Muller. "Despite the score, I'm proud of the way the guys fought through this season, right up to the end."
The only goal of the first period was a Malkin power-play marker just past the midway mark of the frame, and Neal notched his first of the game 4:10 into the second.
Westgarth scored his first of the season at the 12:30 mark to get the 'Canes on the board, but Jussi Jokinen answered less than four minutes later.
It was a tie game heading to the third as Ruutu and Westgarth scored 37 seconds apart late in the second period, but the Pens went up for good on a Neal power-play goal 1:36 into the final frame.
Neal capped his hat trick less than three minutes later on his 21st goal of the season, and Brenden Morrow scored his 12th of the season at 5:24.
Goals from Matt Cooke and Jokinen in the latter part of the final frame turned the game into a one-sided affair.
Neal returned to the ice on Saturday after missing the previous eight games with a concussion ... The Penguins won two of three from the Hurricanes this season ... Pittsburgh went 18-6-0 at home this season ... Carolina was 10-11-3 on the road ... Pittsburgh was 2-for-3 on the power play while Carolina failed on all four of its chances on the man advantage.
04/28 00:20:12 ET
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