Right now, the Pittsburgh Penguins almost seem more comfortable on the road than at home. That's a scary thought for the rest of the NHL.
Chris Kunitz beat Cam Ward on the 12th shot of a shootout to help the defending Stanley Cup champions beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 on Wednesday night, setting a franchise record for most consecutive road wins to start a season.
Evgeni Malkin and Michael Rupp scored in regulation to help the Penguins improve to 5-0 on the road. Pittsburgh had won its first four twice before, the last time coming two seasons ago, but bested that with its fifth straight win against the Hurricanes.
The win ended a four-game, seven-day road trip for the Penguins, who had beaten Toronto and Ottawa by three goals in each of the past two games. This time, Pittsburgh blew a 2-0 lead entering the final period before holding on for the victory through the overtime and an extended shootout.
"We were 4-0 on this road trip," Rupp said, "but the reality of it was we weren't perfect by any stretch."
It was the first meeting between the teams since last season's Eastern Conference final, which Pittsburgh swept by a combined score of 20-9 on the way to the Stanley Cup. Carolina shook up its blue-line in the off-season to get bigger defencemen to match up with offensive-minded teams like Pittsburgh, only to see the Penguins again find a way to beat the Hurricanes - with the past three wins all coming in the RBC Center.
"It's really important just to establish the way we want to play," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said of the 5-0 road mark. "Early on in the season, you're trying to work things out and adjust, and for the most part, everyone knows what they need to do here. It's nice that we're seeing some results here early."
Ray Whitney scored twice for Carolina to erase Pittsburgh's early lead, while Ward finished with 36 saves - including a key stop of Malkin from between the faceoff circles less than a minute into overtime.
But in the end, it wasn't Malkin or Crosby who made the clinching play. Instead, it was Kunitz, who hadn't found the back of the net in regulation this season before slipping the puck between Ward's pads for the victory.
"When your number's called," Kunitz said, "you try to go up and make a good move and put the puck on the net."
Pittsburgh seemed to have the game in control heading into the final period. Rupp had given the Penguins the early lead when he took a short pass from Malkin to set up a 2-on-1 rush, then skated in on Ward to flip the puck by him at the right post at 14:24.
Malkin followed with an impressive goal in the second, taking a give-and-go pass from Pascal Dupuis then squeezing the puck between Ward and the right post from a steep angle early in the period.
But Whitney answered with two quick third-period goals to erase the deficit. First, he slipped a shot underneath Marc-Andre Fleury at 4:25, then redirecting a shot from Tim Gleason to tie it midway through the period and re-energize the home crowd.
Carolina coach Paul Maurice said the performance was probably his team's best of the season.
"Even if we lost the game tonight, you have some confidence going forward," Maurice said.
"Tonight I think was really our first game where I thought we got back to looking like the team that plays the style of game we want to play."
NOTES: The Penguins have scored first in five of seven games this season. ... Fleury finished with 27 saves. ... Whitney scored a point for the third straight game. ... Kunitz also had an assist for the fourth straight game. He has one regulation goal in his last 36 games, which came in Game 2 of the Eastern finals against the Hurricanes. ... Carolina RW Tuomo Ruutu assisted on both of Whitney's goals.