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Hot Hurricanes clinch playoff berth with 3-2 overtime win over Penguins

NHL.com @NHL

RALEIGH, N.C. - Anton Babchuk scored at 1:11 of overtime and the Carolina Hurricanes beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 on Saturday night to clinch their first playoff berth since 2006.

Cam Ward stopped 33 shots and matched a club record with his 38th victory of the season, helping the Hurricanes extend their franchise-record home winning streak to 11.

Their eight-game overall winning streak is their longest since they won nine in a row during 2005-06 - when they made their most recent playoff appearance and went on to win the Stanley Cup.

Chad LaRose and Eric Staal both scored for the second straight game, and Ray Whitney added two assists for Carolina.

Babchuk scored his third winner in an eight-game span when he took a feed from Tim Gleason behind the right circle and unloaded a blast that beat Marc-Andre Fleury.

Tyler Kennedy had a goal and an assist for the Penguins, and Jordan Staal scored with 16 minutes left to make it 2-all. Fleury finished with 27 saves for the Penguins, who were denied a 12th come-from-behind victory. The defending Eastern Conference champs picked up points for the 16th time in 17 games, but still have work to do to clinch another playoff berth.

Ward, who made his career-best 26th start in goal for Hurricanes, improved to 18-6-2 in that stretch by making all the big saves - most notably, stopping stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on breakaways.

With Joe Corvo and Gleason shadowing him all night, Crosby's 12-game points streak ended. He had a clear breakaway on Ward midway through the first before the Carolina goalie made a momentum-shifting save with his right shoulder, one of several opportunities missed by the Penguins.

Evgeni Malkin was awarded a penalty shot with 8:17 left in regulation after Gleason tripped him from behind on a breakaway. Ward stuffed him, too, turning aside a wrist shot with his pads to leave the NHL's scoring leader scoreless in three career penalty shots.

And, a tying goal that appeared to click off Crosby and past Ward midway through the second was wiped out because it occurred an instant after Chris Kunitz was called for tripping Tuomo Ruutu.

In fact, the Penguins' potent offence peppered Ward early and often during a fast-paced first, but got only one goal out of it - Kennedy's 14th, which came about six minutes in. He put Pittsburgh up 1-0 by outworking the Hurricanes for a puck in the corner, skating along the goal line and lifting the puck past Ward.

Eric Staal tied it 3 1/2 minutes later with a goal that was generated by the Hurricanes' forecheck. Erik Cole found Staal from behind the net, and the all-star centre beat Kunitz to the net and snapped the puck past Fleury for his team-leading 36th.

LaRose seemed to have put the Hurricanes in control when he made it 2-1 in the opening minute of the second, but the younger Staal tied it with about 16 minutes left with a slap shot that got past Ward - marking the first time the Staal brothers have scored in the same game.

Notes: Cole has 11 points in 14 games since rejoining the Hurricanes, and his assists on 35 of Staal's career goals are the most by any player. ... Penguins LW Ruslan Fedotenko (shoulder) was back on the ice after sitting out the third period of a win over New Jersey three nights earlier. ... Hurricanes RW Patrick Eaves (upper-body injury) was scratched. ... Carolina improved to 9-5 in its alternate black uniforms with one more appearance in them scheduled.

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