Penguins shoot for third straight against Hurricanes
Monday, 01.16.2012 / 11:44 AMHURRICANES (16-24-7) at PENGUINS (23-17-4)
TV: FS-CR (HD), ROOT (HD)
Carolina 4-5-1; Pittsburgh 4-6-0
Fourth and final meeting of the season. Pittsburgh will be looking to win the series by taking its third straight after Carolina prevailed 5-3 behind a pair of Tuomo Ruutu
goals in the opener. Ruutu and Jordan Staal
of the Penguins, who's injured and won't play Tuesday, lead all scorers in the series with 3 goals.
Pittsburgh seems to have readjusted to life without many of its top players, including Staal, captain Sidney Crosby
and top defenseman Kris Letang
, and has won two straight after a six-game skid to climb back into eighth in the Eastern Conference. Carolina, while it still has a long way to go, has at least escaped the East cellar and added teen-aged phenom Jeff Skinner
back to its lineup.
Fresh off its signature win of the season -- a come-from-behind effort Saturday against a Boston club light years improved from the previous times the Hurricanes beat the Bruins back in October -- Carolina made a quick turnaround and was aiming for a third straight win Sunday in Washington. Skinner returned after missing the previous 16 games with a concussion and Jussi Jokinen
scored with 17 seconds left in the middle period to pull the Canes into a 1-1 tie, but they surrendered Dmitry Orlov's first NHL goal early in the third and fell 2-1.
"We said before the game we're not going to make excuses about it, and we've got to find a way to win," coach Kirk Muller said. "The guys played hard; they came up short. But I think they emptied the tank. It's what we asked them to do. The next step is to find a way to win it."
In a matter of weeks, Pittsburgh went from fighting for the East's top spot to sitting on the outside of the playoff race. The Penguins got back on the winning side Friday night in Florida, and Sunday's game against Tampa Bay was sort of a microcosm of the season. They raced to a 3-0 lead early in the third, but surrendered three goals in a span of 4:50 and found themselves in a tie with the Lightning. That's when Evgeni Malkin
took over, recording a natural hat trick over the final 13 minutes to lift the Penguins to a 6-3 victory.
"You're looking up and having two really good periods of hockey evaporate on you," coach Dan Bylsma said. "We had a lot of guys step up when we needed it, when things were unraveling there."
Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward
has allowed just two goals in each of his last five starts, winning three and posting a .939 save percentage. Eric Staal
's five-game points streak came to an end Sunday, but the captain has 4 goals and 10 assists over his last nine games. … Malkin added a pair of assists Saturday and his 5 points gave him 51 for the season, one behind Henrik Sedin for the NHL lead. He has 6 goals in his last five games. James Neal
also scored twice in the Penguins' win Saturday and has 3 goals in his last two games. His 24 goals ties Phil Kessel for second in the League.
Carolina played Sunday without forwards Chad LaRose
and Jerome Samson
and defenseman Jaroslav Spacek
, all of whom sustained upper-body injuries. Defenseman Joni Pitkanen
(concussion/knee) and goalie Brian Boucher
(lower body) are also out. … Crosby (concussion-like symptoms) joined Pittsburgh on its Florida trip and skated prior to Friday's game, though he has yet to be cleared for contact. He remains on injured reserve along with Letang (concussion), Staal (sprained MCL) and rookie defenseman Simon Despres
Jokinen, a 30-goal scorer for the Hurricanes two seasons ago, snapped a 25-game drought by scoring on Sunday. … The Penguins' top line of Malkin, Neal and Chris Kunitz
combined for 7 goals and 12 points in their two-game sweep of the Lightning and Panthers.
Pittsburgh makes a quick stop back at Consol Energy Center before traveling to Madison Square Garden for a game against New York on Thursday sounding like a team that has rediscovered some of its swagger.
"We had to turn this thing around somehow. I got that goal in Florida and it gives you a boost. We got a win," Neal said. "When you're winning games and you have that confidence to score goals, you have that confidence to play the right way and do the right things. When you're in a slump with losing, it's tough to score goals and we weren't generating offense."