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'Canes snap slide by beating Penguins 5-3

by Kurt Dusterberg
RALEIGH -- The Carolina Hurricanes needed to end a losing streak. Eric Staal needed to find the back of the net.

Mission accomplished on both fronts.

Staal broke out of a season-long slump by scoring the go-ahead goal with 4:34 remaining after Carolina blew a three-goal lead, as the Hurricanes beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-3 Saturday night.

Staal entered the game with five points — just one at even strength — before he jammed home a rebound at the side of the net to break a 3-3 tie.

"For me especially, it couldn't get worse," said Staal, who had been on the ice for all three of Pittsburgh's goals. "You're in that position, up 3-0, and all of a sudden it's 3-3. You can either shell up and call it a night or rear up and go after the next goal. I think as a group we showed a lot of character."

Chad LaRose, who set up Staal's go-ahead goal, scored on a breakaway with 2:30 left as the Hurricanes ended a four-game losing streak.

Carolina lost three of those games with bad third periods, most recently on Friday night when they surrendered four goals to the New York Rangers. Although Pittsburgh rallied for three on Saturday night, the goals by Staal and LaRose to erase some of the frustration.

"It's not easy when you're on a losing streak, even with a three-goal lead," said Jeff Skinner, who scored the first Carolina goal and set up the next two. "I don't know if it's a relief. We'll just go game by game. It's nice to get two points and try to enjoy it."

The Penguins easily outchanced the Hurricanes in the first period. If not for a half-dozen quality saves by Hurricanes netminder Cam Ward, the Penguins could have gone to the intermission with a decisive lead instead of a 1-0 deficit.

"We had some rebounds, some we picked up and some we didn't," said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. "(Ward) made a great save on a couple that kept us off the board, but you expect that from a good goaltender."

Despite the early flurry of Pittsburgh shots, the Hurricanes got the period's only goal on their first shot of the game. Skinner spun off Penguins defenseman Paul Martin in the high slot and lifted a backhander that hit the right post before bouncing in off Brent Johnson at 1:22.

The action took a turn for the physical a couple minutes later when Arron Asham and Bryan Allen squared off for a fight. Fisticuffs are typically a low priority for the Hurricanes, who entered the game with three fighting majors, tied for the fewest in the League.

The fight appeared to energize the Penguins, who dominated the rest of the period. Ward made a big pad stop on Steve Sullivan and a diving glove stop on Chris Kunitz to keep Pittsburgh off the board. He also denied Malkin from the slot and again from the right circle. Sullivan later left the game with what Bylsma said was a lower-body injury.

Carolina killed 86 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play early in the second period, and the momentum began to tilt toward the 'Canes, as the line of Skinner, Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen began to click.

Skinner slid a backhand pass across the slot to Ruutu, who put a wrister in the top corner at 15:51 for a 2-0 lead. Jokinen started the play when he skated through center ice and drew a defender before leaving the puck for Skinner on the wing.

"It was a great play by (Jokinen)," said Skinner, who has 17 points in 17 games to lead the Hurricanes. "Not many people saw that he made a great play at the blue and (Ruutu) made a great play to finish it off. That sort of showcased us three as a line and our chemistry."

Skinner showed the variety of his offensive skills as he set up the third goal of the game. The 2011 Calder Trophy winner battled past Matt Niskanen twice in a matter of seconds to gain possession. The second time, Ruutu was waiting to corral a loose puck and slip it under Johnson with 57 seconds left in the period.

"I think we're all a little different and we complement each other," Ruutu said. "Skinner can obviously make a play out of nothing. Jussi is a good player, smart defensively. He's one of the best passers in the whole league. He's underrated."

With Carolina leading 3-0 entering the third period, the Penguins found their groove. Jordan Staal broke up Cam Ward's shutout bid at 1:40 when he took a centering pass from Evgeni Malkin and scored from the slot. At 4:43, Staal took a breakaway pass from Matt Cooke and beat Ward between the legs for a shorthanded goal.

The Penguins capped the comeback when Pascal Dupuis set up Kunitz for a snap shot from just above the right faceoff dot to tie the game with 7:42 remaining.

That's when Eric Staal, held pointless in seven straight games, put the Hurricanes back on top to stay.

Bylsma gave the Penguins credit for the comeback, but said it took a toll on his team.

"Pretty hectic third period," he said. "Even when we draw even at three, it was a little too hectic for us. (Eric Staal) beats his man up the ice at the end of a tired shift. It's a dirty one at the cage, but that's what he's good at and he picked up a big one for his team."

Staal, the Hurricanes' captain, was moved out of his regular spot as the center on the top line for the first time. He moved to the left wing on Brandon Sutter's line, with LaRose on the right side.

"I felt OK on the wing," he said. "It was a little adjustment. Watching Skinner do it in the first and second, I kind of figured it out in the third."

For Skinner, the game was another step in a strong sophomore year. But individual accomplishments aside, he was content to see his team fight through a game that almost got away.

"Considering the last few games we've gone through here, it's been frustrating giving up leads and losing games in the third," he said, "But it showed the mental toughness there is in the room."
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