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Pens' fourth line steps up big in crucial win

by Christa Eaton @penguins / Pittsburgh Penguins

With the season quickly coming to an end and playoffs fast approaching, it is more important than ever for the Penguins to get contributions from all four lines.

With the Hurricanes only two points behind the Penguins for third place in the Metropolitan Division standings heading into tonight's matchup, it was crucial to get contributions from throughout the lineup.

One trio that stepped up against Carolina was the fourth line of Matt Cullen, Garrett Wilson and Adam Johnson. They combined for two goals and five points as Pittsburgh earned a critical 3-1 victory at PPG Paints Arena on Sunday night.

"They play with so much energy," Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. "Their care factor, their try factor, they're all competitive guys."

The Penguins opened the scoring against the Hurricanes with 9:15 left in the first period thanks to a Wilson goal.

Johnson found Cullen behind the Hurricanes net. He then put the puck in the crease where Wilson battled hard before eventually poking it past goaltender Curtis McElhinney.

"I saw 'Cully' there," Johnson said. "Him and 'Willy' went and banged away, fortunately it went in the net."

The fourth line built on that by giving the Penguins a 2-0 lead going into the first intermission when Cullen scored with 1:15 left in the period.

"In a game like this there's not a lot of room, not a lot of opportunities," Cullen said. "So it's important that you bury those chances when you get them."

Once again, Johnson was involved as he retrieved the puck in the Penguins defensive zone and found Cullen on the right side along the boards. Cullen then went 2-on-1 with a shot far side beating McElhinney.

It was a big first period in particular for Johnson, as he recorded the first two points of his NHL career with his assists off Wilson and Cullen's goals. Johnson has played in five games for Pittsburgh, and is hoping his play will help land him a permanent spot in the lineup.

"I've been feeling good," Johnson said. "I was a little nervous at first, but I'm kind of settled in now. Hopefully I'm showing them that I can be here and making an impact."

Johnson has been a good addition for the fourth line and has added to the chemistry with Cullen and Wilson

"I'm so happy with him on the wing," Cullen said. "I'm so happy for him. He's a great kid. He's earned everything he's gotten. He's got that dynamic speed, and he's so good at getting in on pucks and helping us go from defense to offense. He adds a dimension to our line and our entire lineup of speed that is important for us."

The Penguins now have gotten three goals in three games from the fourth line as they had two tonight, and Cullen also scored against the NY Rangers on March 25 at Madison Square Garden in their 5-2 win.

A big performance from Pittsburgh's fourth line helped secure an important two points as the team continues to push for the playoffs.

"It's huge," Johnson said. "Obviously we have those top guys that score a lot of goals. Anytime we can pitch in it helps a lot. It showed tonight that it helped the team win. It was great." 

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