RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes couldn’t capitalize on enough of their opportunities and came up short in losing 3-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins in front of a crowd of 15,042 in attendance at PNC Arena on Monday.
The Hurricanes’ lone scorer of the game, Nathan Gerbe tallied his team-leading fourth goal of the season while playing in his 200th career NHL game, but couldn’t revel in the achievement as Carolina extended its current losing streak to three games.
“We kinda’ got pushed out of the game,” Hurricanes head coach Kirk Muller said.
“We weren’t able to generate anything in the third period. Prior to that, they just played a heavier game than we did. They won more battles, they ground it out harder. Their big boys at the end of the night were on the score sheet.”
Even as goalkeeper Justin Peters made 26 saves in the losing effort, the Hurricanes’ defensive play couldn’t deny Pittsburgh’s offensive stars from shining as the NHL’s leading scorer, Sidney Crosby, tallied two assists, including setting up Chris Kunitz with the eventual game-winning goal late in the second period.
From the opening faceoff, the Hurricanes struggled to put together an effective first period performance and were outshot 9-0 during the first 12 minutes of play and had fallen behind 1-0 by then.
However, Carolina began to gain some offensive momentum as Pittsburgh’s undisciplined play afforded them two power play opportunities that would eventually work to their favor.
With 4:28 remaining in the period, Carolina took advantage of a 5-on-3 power play as Gerbe finished a tic-tac-toe, one-touch passing play that was initiated by Alexander Semin.
As Semin held the puck along the side boards to Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury’s right, he slid the puck behind the goal line to Elias Lindholm who then wasted no time in one-timing a pass that Gerbe buried inside the right post to tie the score 1-1.
Finishing the game with five shots on net, Gerbe did what he does best – putting the puck on net.
“With your opportunities, you gotta’ shoot,” Gerbe said.
“In this game it’s so hard to get opportunities with the (other) teams with how they play defense and how they block shots, so when the opportunity’s there, you wanna’ get it to the net.”
The Hurricanes produced a much stronger second period of play and put some offensive sequences together, but even while outshooting the Penguins 13-8, they couldn’t capitalize on any of their chances.
On the other hand, Pittsburgh took advantage of its opportunities and managed to score as Kunitz tallied his lone goal of the game at 16:24 and allowed the Penguins to carry a 2-1 lead into the third period.
With a full 20 minutes remaining to tie the game, the Hurricanes were outshot by the Penguins 9-3 and couldn’t put another puck past Fleury.
Pittsburgh eventually increased the deficit to two goals on a pinball scoring play initiated by Crosby.
After getting the puck from defenseman Brooks Orpik, Crosby shot it towards Peters, and as it traveled through the slot, it first ricocheted off Hurricanes defenseman Andrej Sekera, and then off Penguins rookie Jayson Megna’s leg, and finally ended up in the net.
Megna was credited with scoring his first NHL goal while the Hurricanes endured another goal against that they couldn’t afford to give up with 12:49 to play.
Pittsburgh didn’t let up at either end of the ice and made Carolina work for every possession it got for the remainder of the game.
Even with Peters out of the net, and playing with the extra attacker, the Hurricanes still couldn’t add another goal to the score sheet.
According to Muller, even though defensively his players gave up some goals that they shouldn’t have, the Hurricanes’ lack of producing goals against the Penguins was a significant problem throughout the game.
“We broke down on a couple of mistakes that cost us goals,” Muller said.
“We had opportunities to capitalize on almost similar plays, and we didn’t capitalize. They had the opportunity and they scored, and we didn’t.”