ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- It was tight, fast, a little sloppy, and filled with energy and plenty of animosity.
The first meeting in two decades between an NHL team and a club from Russia on Russian ice was everything you expected from two rival leagues and countries, but it didn't produce the result the Carolina Hurricanes were hoping for against the Kontinental Hockey League club.
SKA St. Petersburg captain Maxim Sushinskiy scored twice on Hurricanes goalie Justin Peters within the first 6:35 of the third period to give his team a two-goal cushion Monday. Carolina, playing its final preseason game, couldn't recover and lost, 5-3, in the 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere Challenge game here at Ice Palace.
Russian/Soviet Union teams are now 59-41-10 against NHL clubs since the nations first paired their teams against one another at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 28, 1975 in the inaugural Super Series.
Carolina will open its regular-season schedule Thursday in Helsinki against Minnesota (Noon ET, VERSUS, TSN) as part of the 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere.
"The important game for us is on Thursday and we're trying to build toward that," Hurricanes forward Erik Cole said. "I feel pretty good with where we're at and tonight was one of those games where you saw a lot of guys sticking up for one another, team unity. That's good to see because we are going to need that."
Going without the services of captain Eric Staal in the third period, the Canes fell behind when Sushinskiy banged home a power-play goal from the low slot just 1:47 in. Tuomo Ruutu had gone to the penalty box 33 seconds earlier for tripping.
Less than five minutes later, Sushinskiy connected from the right post after Alexei Yashin gave him a perfect, cross-crease, backhanded pass. Cole had gone to the penalty box only six seconds earlier, creating a 4-on-4 situation and freeing up enough ice for Yashin to make his play and for Sushinskiy to find his way down near the opposite post.
The Hurricanes came out expecting to take control of the game after a strong second period, but it didn't happen.
"You always think that. I think that, especially when you score a couple quick ones," Ruutu said. "But we had a lot of penalties and we didn't get ourselves going after those. They had a great power play. I have to give credit to them."
Staal, who was knocked around in the second period, was not on the bench for the third. However, the Hurricanes said he was not injured.
"It seemed like they were getting closer and closer to his knees and there wasn't a big concern on the ice about it," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. "He's a National Hockey League star player and he should be playing in the National Hockey League."
Cole said the Hurricanes didn't really know what to expect from the game.
"I don't think any of us have really watched a game from here," he said. "Babs (Anton Babchuk) is the only one who has played a game in this league so maybe he knew what to expect, but we weren't real sure, obviously. We didn't want to take any chances with our top end guys getting hurt, so we got them out of there."
Carolina struck twice within the first 3:22 of the second period to erase a 2-0 deficit. The Hurricanes then traded goals with SKA St. Petersburg before the end of a contentious second period to go into the second intermission tied, 3-3.
Ruutu scored off a rebound at 1:50 and Patrick Dwyer did the same just 92 seconds later to make it 2-2. Soon after, a friendly game with a buzzing crowd got ugly as SKA and Carolina went back and forth with plenty of post-whistle pushing and shoving until Tim Gleason finally decided he'd had enough.
Gleason, coming to the defense of Staal, who appeared to be a target of the SKA players, went after Alexei Petrov at the 6:34 mark of the second period. This was before the puck had even dropped after the refs had put Carolina's Jay Harrison and SKA's Maxim Rybin in the box for matching roughing minors.
Petrov didn't appear to want to drop his stick or gloves, but Gleason finally forced them out of his hands and toppled the Russian forward with a few more blows. Gleason and Petrov received matching five-minute majors for fighting and game misconducts.
As he walked through the bench toward the dressing room, Gleason, named last week as an alternate captain along with Brandon Sutter, got plenty of words of encouragement and pats on the back from his teammates.
"I liked it a lot," Maurice said. "You can argue if you like fighting or not, but when you've got guys coming awful close to players' knees with no repercussions, if you don't sort it out that way then there is going to be a lot of stick work and a lot of garbage."
Ruutu shrugged off the physical nature of the game.
"That's hockey," he said. "That's how it gets. It gets tough out there. It doesn't matter if you're playing in the NHL or against teams in Europe."
Carolina changed goalies prior to the ensuing faceoff, subbing Peters in for Cam Ward, but the new netminder didn't even get a moment to get acclimated before he got hounded.
Hurricanes defenseman Jamie McBain turned the puck over in his own zone to Yashin, who showed he still has world-class skills by waiting for Peters go down and then roofing a shot over the goalie's left shoulder to give SKA a 3-2 lead with 13:07 left in the second period.
During Yashin's celebration, Joni Pitkanen slashed his leg and was called for a penalty. SKA defenseman Igor Golovkov went after Pitkanen, but he didn't receive a penalty.
"I had no problem with our discipline," Maurice said. "As a matter of fact I thought we played a very disciplined game. It could have gotten to 30 or 40 (penalties) and I would have been fine with that."
Carolina killed off Pitkanen's penalty and one more to rookie defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti for roughing, and when it finally got back on the power play with 5:36 to play, it made St. Petersburg pay.
Pitkanen found rookie left wing Jeff Skinner in front of the net and the 18-year-old showed the skills that made him the No. 7 pick in the 2010 Entry Draft by deftly playing the puck from his left skate to his stick blade and then finding an opening between goaltender Evgeni Nabokov and the left post with 5:08 left.
Carolina had a chance to go ahead with back-to-back power plays in the last four and a half minutes, but couldn't convert on either and the score remained 3-3 going into the third period. After outshooting SKA in the first period, 14-8, the home team came back and outshot the Canes, 18-15, in the second period.
"Between the penalties and the stuff going on out there and not having Eric (Staal), there were long stretches that didn't make the flow great," Cole said. "In the third I thought the coaches did a good job of rolling the lines and getting everyone out there."
SKA appeared to be the slower team out of the gate, but still was able to grab a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission on goals by Konstatin Panov at 1:51 and Rybin with just six seconds left.
Panov's pass from behind the net deflected off Pitkanen's skates and through Cam Ward's legs. With Pitkanen in the box in the waning seconds of the first, Rybin made Carolina pay by re-directing former Sabre and Thrasher Maxim Afinogenov's point shot.
Rybin, who was in the high slot, might have kicked the puck in, but there is no replay here so the goal stood.
"We got a good lather, a good sweat. I liked our second a lot," Maurice said of his team's overall play. "We brought some good jump. Then we kind of lost our focus in the game, but that happens when it gets like that."