In a game packed with all the drama of a classic shoot ‘em up Western, the Penguins overcame penalty woes and a furious last-minute barrage by Carolina to defeat the Hurricanes 3-2 at the RBC Center on Saturday night.
Under newly minted coach Kirk Muller, Carolina implemented the aggressive, puck-possession style favored by the Penguins. Indeed, the Pens must’ve felt like they were facing a mirror image during a scoreless opening period. With their defense reversing the puck to set up outlet passes, the speedy Hurricanes gave a pretty fair imitation of the black and gold while rolling up a 12-8 edge in shots.
Following an inspired shift by the Sidney Crosby line early in the second period, however, the ice began to tilt dramatically in Pittsburgh’s favor. After ‘Canes defender Bryan Allen made a strong play to break up a two-on-one at the eight-minute mark, Crosby fished the puck out of the corner and fed Craig Adams with a nifty backhand pass. Resembling “Super Sid,” No. 27 ripped a sharp-angle shot past Carolina goalie Brian Boucher on the short side for his second goal in two games.
The home team knotted the score at 1-1 late in the period when Jamie McBain took advantage of heavy traffic in the crease to beat Brent Johnson with a rocket from inside the left point. But the plucky Penguins retook the lead at 8:33 of the final frame, thanks to a bomb by Arron Asham.
Up 2-1, the visitors continued to pour it on. With ten minutes to play Evgeni Malkin wheeled out of the right-wing circle with a dazzling spin-o-rama move and whipped a backhander on net. Hustling Pascal Dupuis kicked the puck off Boucher’s pads, scooped up the carom and buried it for his eight goal of the season.
The Pens appeared to be in complete command. However, the contest soon morphed into an on-ice version of Nightmare on Elm Street. At 12:29 Carolina narrowed the gap to 3-2 on a power-play tally by McBain. James Neal appeared to right the ship three minutes later when he dove to the ice and swept the puck around Boucher. However, Malkin bowled over the ‘Canes netminder on the play and the goal was waved off.
Things quickly downshifted from bad to darn-near catastrophic. Jordan Staal absorbed a puck to the face and exited to the locker room for repairs. For the second time in two weeks the Pens were whistled for a late too-many-men-on-the-ice infraction. Twenty-two seconds later Dupuis was given the gate for holding to hand Carolina a five-on-three. Sensing a golden opportunity, Muller pulled Boucher to give his squad a three-man advantage with 90 seconds remaining.
Minus stalwarts Staal and Matt Cooke (who drew a tripping penalty at 19:04), Johnson and the shorthanded Pens circled the wagons and put on a penalty-killing clinic. With Adams and rugged Brooks Orpik blocking shot after shot, the black and gold withstood a frenzied Carolina assault in the final minute of play. Johnson smothered a last-gasp attempt by Jussi Jokinen with 17.2 ticks left on the clock to earn the two points for the Pens.
“You don’t see six-on-threes that often,” said Johnson, who made 30 saves. “Just an excellent effort from our guys.”
Ex-Hurricane Adams (a goal and an assist) was named No. 1 star … Paul Martin (an assist and a plus-1) logged a game-high 27:50 of ice time … Crosby and Malkin each collected an assist and a plus-1 … The Pens out-shot the ‘Canes 40-32 … Carolina controlled the face-off circle 31-24 … Deryk Engelland (lower-body injury) missed the third period … Dustin Jeffrey, Kris Letang, Ben Lovejoy, Steve MacIntyre, Zbynek Michalek, Brian Strait, and Joe Vitale were scratches.
The Penguins (16-7-4) return to the friendly confines of CONSOL Energy Center on Monday night for a heavyweight tilt with Boston (16-7-1). The Pens trail in the all-time series (59-99-24).
*Be sure to check out Rick’s new book, “100 Things Penguins Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die” at TriumphBooks.com. It features 296 pages of bios, stories, anecdotes and photos from the team’s colorful past in a compelling, easy-to-read style. Whether you’re a die-hard booster from the days of Jean Pronovost or a big fan of Sid and Geno, this book is a must have for any true Penguins fan.
Don’t forget to check out Rick’s first book, “Total Penguins,” at TriumphBooks.com. A complete and comprehensive book on the team’s rich and storied history, it’s filled with season-by-season summaries, player profiles and stats, bios on coaches, general managers and owners, photos from the “Post-Gazette” archives, and much, much more.