With Sidney Crosby in the penalty box for goaltender interference, Gerbe scored his third goal of the season to put Carolina up 3-2 at 3:10 of the third period.
Hurricanes forward Riley Nash passed the puck from the point cross-ice to Elias Lindholm, who sent another cross-ice pass through the heart of the Penguins' penalty kill to Gerbe at the left of the Pittsburgh net. Gerbe roofed a shot behind Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
“It’s a tough challenge playing against the Penguins,” goalie Cam Ward said. “They’re a very offensive team. And we were able to control our gaps and prevent them from getting in the neutral zone and it seemed to them a little bit.”
The Penguins attempted a late push by moving Evgeni Malkin to the top line alongside Crosby and Patric Hornqvist for a few minutes midway through the third. But the Hurricanes' defense smothered the attack and Ward stopped each of Pittsburgh’s six third-period shots.
Gerbe had a chance to score a second goal when he carried the puck into the Penguins zone on a 2-on-0 along with Alexander Semin, 7:16 into the final period. Gerbe went to his right, but Fleury made a pad save to keep Pittsburgh’s deficit at one goal.
Pittsburgh's League-leading power play failed on its lone attempt.
“Basically they’ve been low-penalty minute games, the games we’ve played in,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. “They’ve been all low penalty minutes and yeah, maybe we come out with one less, but there weren’t a lot of penalties called either way. And I still believe in the end, if you’re going to get penalty calls, you have to earn them.
“You have to work and you have to be quick to the net, quick to the corners. Force the defense to hook you or hold you.”
The Hurricanes controlled the pace through 40 minutes but the game entered the second intermission tied 2-2 after the teams traded second-period goals.
Patrick Dwyer gave Carolina a 2-1 lead 2:54 into the second with his second goal of the season. Jiri Tlusty forced a turnover by Penguins forward Craig Adams at center ice and sent a pass to Dwyer, who skated past a flat-footed Zach Sill before wristing a shot over Fleury’s shoulder.
The Penguins struggled to exit their zone through much of the second period, which resulted in a 28-16 shot deficit. Pittsburgh adjusted its lineup by swapping Chris Kunitz and Nick Spaling on its top two lines, with Kunitz joining Crosby and Hornqvist.
The tweaks seemed to pay off. Hornqvist scored his 11th goal of the season, tied with Malkin for the team lead, with 4:08 remaining in the period. Crosby received a pass from Kunitz, skated into the Carolina zone and left the puck for Hornqvist in the right circle.
Hornqvist skated in and sent a shot over Ward’s glove.
Carolina opened the scoring when Tlusty scored his team-leading ninth goal of the season with 4:13 remaining in the first period.
Tlusty charged down the right boards past Penguins defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and threw a pass toward the Pittsburgh crease. The puck deflected off the skate of Pittsburgh defenseman Olli Maatta’skate and over Fleury to put the Hurricanes up 1-0.
“It’s always exciting to play against a highly-skilled team like they have and a really good team like they have,” Tlusty said. “We’re just trying to build our game and I think we all bought in tonight and everyone wanted to win and that was key. Everyone was working hard.”
The goal came a few minutes after Ward made what could be the save of the year to keep the game scoreless. Blake Comeau, who was alone in front of the Carolina crease, deked to his right before bringing the puck back to his left. Ward was caught out of position but extended his stick to deny Comeau’s backhand attempt 9:05 into the first.
“It was a real big save at a key time,” Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said. “So, [Ward] is capable of that. He’s been good for us and what we do, we evaluate our goaltenders on our team and when we play well in front of them, they give us good goaltending and he did that here tonight.”
Ward wasn’t as fortunate later in the period, when Kris Letang tied the game 43 seconds after Tlusty’s goal.
Spaling snapped a shot at Ward after receiving a pass from Crosby behind the net. Crosby whacked at the rebound before it bounced out to Letang to Ward’s right. Letang wristed a shot past Ward with 3:30 remaining in the period.
Penguins forward Marcel Goc left the game midway through the first period after his foot was hit by a puck. Johnston said he does expect the injury to be significant. Hurricanes forward Riley Nash left the game after being hit by Crosby late in the third period. Peters did not have an update on his condition.
Tlusty added an empty-net goal, his 10th goal of the season, with 12.4 seconds remaining. Carolina and Pittsburgh will play again at PNC Arena on Saturday.
“We just didn’t play well,” Crosby said. “They work hard. They pressure the puck and they just outbattled us, but they did the right things and we didn’t play well at all.”