RALEIGH, N.C. -- On a night when high-scoring defenseman Kris Letang was out of the lineup, his partners on the Pittsburgh Penguins' back end showed off some skating and stickhandling abilities of their own.
Defensemen Robert Bortuzzo and Christian Ehrhoff each scored in a tight-checking 3-2 Penguins win against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena on Saturday.
Bortuzzo's goal gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead at 5:32 in the first period. He carried the puck over the blue line and skated between Hurricanes defensemen Jay Harrison and John-Michael Liles before firing a shot inside the left post.
"[Letang] was there after the first period in the tunnel with a good grin on his face, telling me I've been watching him too much," Bortuzzo said. "He's a great player. If I can make a play like that, I'm happy to do it."
Letang was a late scratch with a minor lower-body injury. Penguins coach Mike Johnston said Letang did not sustain the injury when Hurricanes forward Jiri Tlusty fell on his leg Friday during a 4-2 Carolina victory.
"I don't expect it to be too much," Johnston said. "He was with us on the trip, but [the medical staff] just felt this morning that he wasn't ready to play."
For the Penguins (16-5-2), the win against the Hurricanes came at the end of a stretch of six games in nine days and one night after a lackluster effort in which Carolina outshot them 35-22.
"When you can get a fresh start the next day and you know you're playing the same team, I think you're pretty motivated given the way things went the night before," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "I thought that was the case for us tonight. We were a lot better than last night."
The game started in an unwelcome but familiar fashion for Pittsburgh. Carolina again got on the board first. With Bortuzzo in the box for roughing, Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk took a pass from Victor Rask and blasted a high shot from the top of the left faceoff circle past Penguins goalie Thomas Greiss at 3:39 of the first period.
Chris Kunitz answered quickly, scoring his ninth at 3:56 of the first to snap an 11-game goal drought. Evgeni Malkin circled the net and slipped a backhand pass to Kunitz, who snapped a shot past Anton Khudobin to tie the game. Kunitz started the play in the neutral zone when he spun and dumped a backhand beyond the goal line, where Malkin took over.
The Penguins had to weather three Carolina power plays in the second period, leaning on Greiss to make nine of his 32 saves on the penalty kills. Greiss kept Carolina at bay by fending off a couple redirected shots from the slot.
Greiss' best save of the period came at even strength, moving across the crease to stop Eric Staal's wrist shot on a 2-on-1.
"[Greiss] has played outstanding," Johnston said. "You saw the saves he made on the penalty kill tonight. He was great for us. Every game he's been in, he's given us a chance to win for sure."
Needing some breathing room down the stretch, Ehrhoff took matters into his own hands with a fine individual play. He skated the puck from his own blue line past two Carolina defenders, got off a shot on his backhand, then tucked the rebound into the net on his forehand for a 3-1 Pittsburgh lead with 4:33 remaining. It was his first goal of the season.
"I was going to go that way anyway, and the puck came back to me, and I just got a stick on it again," Ehrhoff said.
The veteran defenseman used Bortuzzo's goal to light a bit of a fire.
"It was definitely inspiring to see how he just walked through the middle there untouched and (put it) off the post and in," Ehrhoff said. "I told him on the bench, I took a page out of his book there on my goal."
Carolina's Elias Lindholm scored a power-play goal with 11 seconds remaining.
The Hurricanes (7-13-3) have lost seven of their past nine games. One night after carrying the play against Pittsburgh, Carolina couldn't find the same gear.
"I didn't think we played as well as the game went along," Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said. "I thought the energy was obviously a part of it, but also the execution. We didn't get pucks in behind their defense."
Khudobin, who made 30 saves, remains winless at 0-5-2.
"He's been fine," Peters said. "I'm sure it's frustrating for him. It's something we'll address Monday with him and see where he's at. But we haven't scored when he's been in the net. That's the reality."