RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes learned a tough lesson during a 7-1 loss to the defending Stanley-Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.
The Penguins displayed the main ingredient that’s critical to winning games in the National Hockey League (NHL) – a full 60-minute effort that produces results.
While Viktor Stalberg eventually posted the lone goal for the Hurricanes, Pittsburgh’s spread offense that included six players scoring, led by Conor Sheary’s two, swarmed Carolina’s Cam Ward who made his 21st consecutive start in net.
Ward went the distance and faced 41 shots in suffering his and the team’s worst loss of the season.
“We kinda hung Wardo out to dry tonight,” Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner said.
Although losing only their second game at PNC Arena in their last 17 games at home, the dominance the Penguins displayed in scoring goals in bunches, handed the Hurricanes their second straight loss to a Metropolitan Division opponent.
“We didn’t manage the puck very well – turned it over too much,” Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters said.
“Their transition game was good and they capitalized.”
Carolina started the game looking like they could skate stride-for-stride with the Penguins.
Thanks to a power play to Ian Cole for hooking Jordan Staal at just 27 seconds into the game, the Hurricanes peppered Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray with six shots during the first four minutes of play.
Other than Stalberg’s goal that came at 7:09 of the third period, Murray stopped the remainder of the total 28 shots he faced throughout the game.
A stick save on Hurricanes rookie Sebastian Aho in the crease, and a chest save on a Justin Faulk’s slap shot from the point were just two examples of significant stops Murray made early on that set the tone for the game.
“I thought the first 10 minutes, Carolina really pressed and they came out with a lot of energy,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said.
“I thought Matt gave us some timely saves there that gave us a chance to get our legs underneath us. And then I thought we played well from there.”
Pittsburgh picked up its pace and worked to capitalize on Carolina’s turnovers.
Ward made consecutive stops as well, including an impressive pad save on Evgeni Malkin from the right faceoff dot that kept the game scoreless.
After making eight top-quality saves up to that point, Trevor Daley’s overpowering slap shot from the high slot beat Ward and put Pittsburgh ahead 1-0 at 12:31.
Having faced 13 shots after 15 minutes of play, Murray continued to defend the puck effectively.
Pittsburgh looked to have scored again, but the referee initially ruled that Patric Hornqvist had made incidental contact with Ward in his crease as the puck entered the net.
Upon a short review and then a more detailed look at the play following Sullivan’s challenge, it actually turned out that the net was knocked off its moorings before the puck crossed the goal line.
The Pens maintained their one-goal lead into the first intermission.
Carl Hagelin extended the Penguins’ lead to 2-0 when he slipped behind the coverage of Tuevo Teravainen and knocked in a rebound on the edge of Ward’s crease at the 6:59 mark of the second period.
As Pittsburgh continued to dominate possession during the period, two goals in 18 seconds, from Sheary and Chris Kunitz respectively, put the Hurricanes behind 4-0 with 7:14 remaining in the period.
Just under five minutes later, Phil Kessel added a power play goal for the Penguins while Jeff Skinner sat in the box for unsportsmanlike conduct, his second penalty of the period that preceded an embellishment infraction three minutes earlier.
Skinner’s action earned him a permanent seat on the bench for the final 20 minutes of play.
Giving up the turnover on Hagelin’s goal eventually earned Teravainen limited playing time until the final horn sounded as well.
“I hurt the team,” Skinner said.
“You don’t want to hurt the team. It’s tough sittin’ and watchin’, especially when guys are out there battling, the PK’s battling.”
Ward’s frustration showed when Malkin scored the Pen’s sixth goal on the power play at the 6:37 mark of the third.
After the puck rolled off his pad that was tucked against the left post and into the net, Ward unleashed a punch with his blocker to Hornqvist’s face while he lay prone on the ice after being pushed down there at the end of the play by Staal.
Though they didn’t score on the power play as a result of the roughing penalty Ward was assessed, Pittsburgh didn’t slow down and kept pressing.
The only spoiler was Stalberg who scored his eighth of the season, shorthanded, 32 seconds later and ended Murray’s shutout bid.
The Pens didn’t let up however, and following a pad save on Bryan Rust by Ward, the Pittsburgh winger got the rebound and found Sidney Crosby open in the slot.
Once he got the puck, the Pens captain released a quick backhand to a wide open Sheary by the lower edge of the right faceoff circle who one-timed it into a gaping open net for his second goal of the game.
Carolina faced an insurmountable 7-1 deficit with 10:55 to play – one which they didn’t come any closer to recovering from.
Having faced similar challenges during the last month, Carolina’s streak of scoring later in games hit a major dry patch, one that it will look to recover quickly from in playing the second of a back-to-back set at Columbus on Saturday.
“I think it kind of adds up and the next thing you know, it gets away from you and you can’t recover,” Peters said.
“We got away with it a couple of times when we outscored our mistakes. Tonight, there was no chance to do that.”