CHRIS Judd has inspired Carlton to a thrilling comeback victory over Richmond in the first elimination final at the MCG on Sunday.
The Blues clawed their way back from a 32-point deficit to win by 20 points before a record elimination final crowd of 94,690.
Carlton only earned its finals spot after seventh-placed Essendon was ruled out of September action by the AFL and looked set for an early exit when they trailed by more than five goals points at the three-minute mark of the third term.
But former skipper Judd, returning after a three-week absence with a knee injury, got the Blues back into the game with an outstanding 11-possession third term that sparked them to a memorable 18.8 (116) to 14.12 (96) victory.
The resurgent Blues will now play the Sydney Swans at ANZ Stadium next Saturday night.
It was a heartbreaking return to the finals for the Tigers after 12 long years, with the yellow and black army largely responsible for swelling the crowd to the biggest number for a week-one final since the introduction of the final five in 1972.
The previous highest crowd was 91,900 at the 1972 Richmond-Collingwood qualifying final.
"We don't want to be chasing all day, but nonetheless, I half suspected, in fairness to the Tigers who are a side I admire, maybe a few of them played their game early," Malthouse said.
"Persistence is wonderful if you keep at sides like that."
As good as Judd (25 possessions and one goal) was, he had plenty of help with late inclusion Nick Duigan a surprise star up forward with four goals straight.
Jarrad Waite was also important for the Blues up forward with four goals, while Bryce Gibbs delivered on his undeniable talent with 27 possessions (18 contested) and a game-high 12 clearances.
Blues skipper Marc Murphy (26 possessions) did more than anyone to keep Carlton in the game in the first half when the Tigers were controlling general play.
The Tigers' cause was not helped when Reece Conca appeared to suffer a severe hamstring injury a little more than 10 minutes into the game.
Substitute Shane Tuck was brought on to replace Conca almost immediately and the early substitution would have been a factor in the Tigers' inability to match the Blues' run in the second half.
"The fact of the matter is we probably had two strengths that we came into the game with, one being defensive 50 contested ball and we went down by -18 in that area," Hardwick said.
"The other one is scores from stoppage versus opposition. I think we were No.2 in the AFL and we gave up 30 goals for the year. We gave up 11 today.
"So two normal strengths went away as two weaknesses, which cost us the game."
Hardwick did not think his young team had been affected by the occasion, saying playing Carlton in a final at the MCG was always going to be a 50-50 game.
The Tigers' senior players led the way for their young team, with Brett Deledio (24 possessions) and Trent Cotchin (26) showing they belonged on the September stage.
Dustin Martin (19 possessions) was outstanding in the first three quarters but faded from the game in the final term.
Richmond showed no signs of nerves in their return to the finals, dominating general play in the first quarter. The Tigers had 19 inside 50s to the Blues' six but their inaccuracy in front of goal meant they led by just eight points at quarter-time.
The Tigers looked set to skip out to a match-winning lead early in the second term, when they rammed on four straight goals to lead by 25 points at the 10-minute mark.
But from there the Blues started to work their way back into the game, kicking three of the next five goals to get back to within 20 points late in the term.
They could have been even closer too, but gave away four costly 50m penalties in the first half, three of which resulted in Richmond goals.
And a Trent Cotchin goal after the half-time siren sent the Tigers into the main break with a handy 26-point lead.
RICHMOND 3.5 10.7 12.10 14.12 (96)
CARLTON 2.3 6.5 12.7 18.8 (116)
Richmond: Vickery 2, Cotchin 2, Edwards 2, Maric 2, Riewoldt, Grimes, Newman, Martin, Tuck, Ellis,
Carlton: Waite 4, Duigan 4, Betts 3, Garlett 2, Robinson 2, Warnock, Scotland, Judd
Richmond: Deledio, Cotchin, Martin, Rance, Newman,
Carlton: Judd, Murphy, Curnow, Duigan, Betts, Waite, Gibbs
Richmond: Conca (hamstring)
Richmond: Shane Tuck replaced Reece Conca (hamstring) in the first quarter.
Carlton: Troy Menzel replaced Andrew McInnes in the final quarter
Umpires: Farmer, Nicholls, Meredith
Official crowd: 94,690 at the MCG