RALEIGH, N.C. – It’s great when the other team’s best players are in the penalty box for a total of 10 minutes.
That’s what the Carolina Hurricanes had to work with against the Pittsburgh Penguins at PNC Arena on Tuesday, a game that eventually played to the defending Stanley Cup champion’s favor by a score of 3-1.
Even with Evgeni Malkin taking six minutes in penalties and the NHL’s second-leading scorer in Sidney Crosby serving four, the Hurricanes could only muster one goal on five man-advantage opportunities.
Jeff Skinner’s 20th goal of the season came at the eight-minute mark and evened the score 1-1.
It was another night of playing catch-up even after playing a solid first period and outshooting the Pens 14-7 after 20 minutes.
Pittsburgh opened the scoring at 2:15 when Scott Wilson redirected Patric Hornqvist’s shot towards Carolina starting netminder Cam Ward from the right boards.
Yes, Carolina did score on the power play – once out of three times in that period – as they finally beat Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray.
It was Skinner’s first against the Penguins in three games this season on a setup from Phil Di Giuseppe and Lee Stempniak.
There was a big smile on Skinner’s face as he celebrated with Stempniak who notched his second helper in three games while Di Giuseppe tallied his first point since being recalled over the weekend.
Ward made a high pad save on Eric Fehr’s snap shot form the deep slot that kept the game tied with five minutes remaining in the period.
A tripping penalty to Crosby for upending Justin Faulk gave Carolina its third man-advantage opportunity.
Nothing came of it.
Both teams were tied still 1-1 heading into the second and Malkin served his third penalty early on.
It was Carolina’s prime opportunity to take the lead.
They didn’t do it.
The closest the Hurricanes came to beating Murray was a shot from Sebastian Aho that rung off the post.
Then the tables turned.
With Crosby and Malkin well rested from their multiple banishments to the sin bin, they went to work.
Pittsburgh had a 5-on-3 opportunity to take the lead with Aho and Viktor Stalberg serving penalties that came 56 seconds apart.
That’s when Crosby struck by tipping a shot from Phil Kessel that flew over Ward’s stick-side shoulder and put the Penguins ahead 2-1 with 3:39 left in the period.
It was the worst case scenario for this Carolina team that has struggled to score 5-on-5.
“When you have the opportunity to get a lead against a team like this, you need to do it,” Hurricanes defenseman Ron Hainsey said.
“Because, if you don’t, you see what happens – they get a 5-on-3 and they capitalize, and then you’re chasin’ from there.”
Scoring one power play goal was good, but not good enough as they struggled to get pucks to the net.
Yes, Carolina eventually outshot Pittsburgh 30-22, but the Penguins also blocked 25 shots from getting through to Murray.
“The chances were there,” Di Giuseppe said.
“They had a couple of good sticks there (blocking).”
While Carolina pressed to tie it during the third, Ward had to remain sharp to keep it a one-goal game through nine minutes of play.
An impressive glove save on Crosby’s wrister at the 11:42 mark was critical to keeping Carolina’s hopes of tying it alive.
Those hopes were dashed two minutes later when Malkin created the two-goal separation between the sides when he snapped a Carl Hagelin feed past Ward.
Though Victor Rask won the draw to the left of the Carolina net, Hagelin picked the puck up deep in the Hurricanes zone and wheeled behind the net until he threaded the puck past defenseman Brett Pesce to Malkin who got the jump on Rask in following the play and scored his 25th of the season.
The Hurricanes continued to chase the game, trying valiantly to beat Murray for the remainder of the game.
“Going into the third, we felt real good,” Di Giuseppe said.
“We were playin’ a good game – outchancin’ them, outshootin’ them. We just didn’t find a way to pull it together in the third there.”
Though not demolishing Carolina like they did last time the two teams met at PNC, Pittsburgh made the most of its chances while the Hurricanes did not.
Carolina head coach Bill Peters summed it up.
“Don’t make it harder than it needs to be,” he said.
“We didn’t need to be down two. We didn’t need to give up the one early in the game. It’s a simple play. It’s a box-out. There’s a guy net-front, you’ve gotta tie him up, gotta have his stick, you gotta be physical. Simple mistakes.”