The Penguins hit the road for the first of a three-game road stretch. The first stop was Carolina to face the Hurricanes for the second time this season. Carolina was the only Eastern Conference team the Penguins had yet to defeat and heading into tonight, the Canes had lost five in a row. The Penguins, having clinched a playoff spot were looking to clinch the Division title. Both teams were desperate – the Hurricanes in their attempt to move into a postseason position and the Penguins in their endeavours to prove they were still a ridiculous strong contender despite their mounting casualties.
Less than two minutes into the game, Deryk Engelland and Kevin Westgarth dropped the gloves, both hoping to ignite a fire beneath their teams and get something started on the scoreboard. Both were given five minute majors in what would begin a parade to the penalty box for both teams. Craig Adams was called for a slash two and a half minutes into the period, while Eric Staal earned two minutes for a slash of his own before Chris Kunitz earned another two minutes for a trip. What resulted was four-on-three for the Hurricanes, allowing them to captialize and take a one goal lead with just over four minutes gone in the game. The goal, courtesy of Joe Corvo, resulted in a face off win by Jordan Staal and subsequent screen in front of Marc-Andre Fleury.
A minute and a half later, Robert Bortuzzo, with just his second career NHL goal, tied the game up for Pittsburgh. Bortuzzo crashed the net while picking up a pass from Pascal Dupuis and beating net-minder Justin Peters. Brendon Morrow gave Pittsburgh the lead with 13:39 off the clock through the first twenty. With the puck loose at the blue line, Jussi Jokinen (in his first game against his former club) made a no-look backhand pass to Morrow who effortlessly moved past a Carolina d-man, snipping a shot and beating Peters. The Hurricanes would tie it up a minute and a half later, this time Bob Sanqunetti being credited with the goal. At the end of twenty, the games was tied at two apiece.
Play would flow back and forth through the second, both teams earning some quality opportunities and testing both goal tenders. The Penguins found themselves on the power play twice, first when Riley Nash was sent to the box for a high-stick and second when Jeff Skinner was whistled for a slash. After forty, the game remained tied 2-2, shots being 19 to 18 in favour of Pittsburgh.
A half a minute into the third, the Penguins elected to use their timeout. However, it proved to be to Carolina’s advantage as the Canes would regain the lead with their third goal of the evening, this one courtesy of a rebound to Riley Nash. Carolina would dominate play through the first half of the period, but the Penguins would rebound back – literally – with just over ten minutes left to go in regulation. The tying goal came courtesy of Beau Bennett, who was originally denied by Peters but stuffed the rebound home. Thirteen seconds later – yes, you read that right, it was Evgeni Malkin earning Pittsburgh’s fourth of the night to return the lead to Pittsburgh. Jarome Iginla would force a turnover in the neutral zone that sent the Penguins rushing into Carolina’s zone. He and Malkin passed the puck back and forth before Malkin poked in a rebound from Iginla’s shot and just like that, it was 4 to 3. Pascal Dupuis would seal the deal with a second left on the clock. With the 5-3 victory, the Penguins took the game and the Atlantic Division title for the first time since 2007-2008.
Brooks Orpik led all skaters with 24:19 of ice time while Matt Niskanen had 22:43. Evgeni Malkin had six shots on goal while Pascal Dupuis, Jarome Iginla, Matt Cooke and Brooks Orpik each had three. With one goal and two assists, Pascal Dupuis enjoyed a three point night while Craig Adams earned two for himself. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 25 of the 28 shots he faced while the Penguins sent 32 in total toward Justin Peters.
The Penguins continue to be without Paul Martin (upper body) and Sidney Crosby (upper body.) Following Friday night’s game against the New York Rangers, forward James Neal has been diagnosed with a concussion and as such no timetable has been set for his return. Kris Letang, sidelined with a broken toe, skated with the team this morning and while no timeline has been given for his return, it is likely he will be back within the next week.
The Penguins next game is Thursday night when they face off in Tampa Bay against the Lightning. Game time is 7:30pm.