PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins finally remembered how to do something they once did with monotonous regularity, and that's win at home.
James Neal won it by scoring in the third round of the shootout, Evgeni Malkin kept his hot streak going with his fourth goal in two games and the Penguins ended a four-game losing streak on home ice by beating the Carolina Hurricanes, 2-1, at Consol Energy Center on Tuesday night.
The Penguins, involved in their first shootout in 30 games – or since a 3-2 win at Los Angeles on Nov. 5 – are 4-2 in shootout play while the Hurricanes are 0-4. Carolina fell to 5-13-5 on the road even though Cam Ward – who hasn't allowed more than two goals in any of his last six starts -- made 40 saves.
"There are no easy games in the League right now," defenseman Brooks Orpik said after Pittsburgh (24-17-4) shook off an early 1-0 deficit to remain among the top eight in the Eastern Conference standings.
In the shootout, Malkin's went wide on a backhander to beat Ward and Jussi Jokinen answered with a backhander of his own. After Chris Kunitz and Jeff Skinner each missed, Neal started deep in his own zone, picked up the puck at the red line and shifted it back-and-forth on his stick before beating Ward on a wrist shot as the goalie crowded the near post.
"I usually have something in my head, but I just switched up there," Neal said. "I tried to go with what's open and it worked out."
Fleury ended it by turning aside Eric Staal's backhander after failing to poke-check the puck off the Carolina captain's stick.
Pittsburgh has won three straight – with Malkin scoring five goals – after dropping six in a row, its longest such skid since Dan Bylsma was named coach nearly three years ago. But the Penguins – 12-7-2 at Consol – had dropped four straight at home in regulation since beating Carolina 4-2 on Dec. 27.
"It's huge, especially at home, because we don't want to be too comfortable here," Neal said. "We need to make this building tough to play in."
Jamie McBain got the Hurricanes (16-24-8) off to a promising start, scoring 2:11 into the game – exactly the way coach Kirk Muller would have scripted the opening after his team was outshot 52-18 in losing at Consol three weeks ago. The 34-shot differential is the largest in an NHL game this season.
The difference was 41-26 this time, again in favor of Pittsburgh, as the ‘Canes couldn't find the net in the final 57:49 of regulation plus the overtime. Their only goal came as a Jokinen pass from the near wall, intended for a heavily defended Alexei Ponikarovsky, sailed into the slot and McBain one-timed it past Fleury for his 4th goal.
Skinner had the second assist, his first point since he scored Dec. 7 against Edmonton. But the 19-year-old, who returned Sunday from a 16-game concussion layoff, later gave Carolina a major scare.
Skinner was slow to get up from the ice and was taken to the dressing room after absorbing a shoulder-to-shoulder hit from defenseman Brooks Orpik seven minutes into the third period. Skinner was reaching for the puck, but Orpik still drew an interference penalty.
After being checked over by a physician away from the bench, Skinner returned five minutes later.
"I saw him coming but I thought I could chip it in and get by him. Then I realized I couldn't, I tried to get my hands up to protect myself as quick as possible," Skinner said. "I stayed down there to sort of collect my thoughts and not rush to get back up. It was a pretty good hit."
Muller said, "We love the fact we have him back and didn't want to lose him again. He'll learn to be careful cutting across the middle there. But it's good that he came back. He was alert, fine and feisty when he came back."
Bylsma sensed an extra determination by his players to make sure Carolina didn't score during the ensuing power play.
"We didn't necessarily like the call, and right away four or five guys are saying, `We're going to kill this penalty and get back to 5-on-5 here,' " Bylsma said. "There was a little bit of a mindset that if you feel it was a bad call, dig down and kill that penalty."
Earlier, the Penguins had tied it late in the first period the same way they ended their 6-3 win at Tampa Bay on Sunday – with a Malkin goal.
Malkin became the first player in Penguins history to score two unassisted goals during a natural hat trick during the third period Sunday. This time, Malkin missed on a slap shot from the right circle, but the puck deflected back to him and he wristed a shot under the crossbar at 18:38 for his 22nd goal.
Malkin has five goals and two assists in his last three games and is again in the chase for the NHL scoring title. He won the Art Ross Trophy in 2009, when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup.
Still, Bylsma said this recent stretch might be the best he's seen Malkin play during the regular season.
"In terms of playing in the offensive zone, playing with the puck, defensively, on faceoffs – he has a lion's share of the responsibilities in a lot of areas and he's certainly playing outstanding," Bylsma said. "When you see him go down and block a shot (late in the game), I was hoping he would go back the other way and get the game-winner."
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