Pens drop playoff-like game
By Joedy McCreary
The Associated Press
RALEIGH, N.C. — The Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins traded hits — and, occasionally, goals — during an intense game with a decided playoff feel.
Because the Hurricanes found a way to rally for a victory, they moved closer to finally earning some real playoff games.
Dougie Hamilton scored in the shootout after Justin Williams scored the tying goal with 1:56 left in regulation, leading the Hurricanes past the Penguins 3-2 on Tuesday night.
“The fun part is, we’re playing playoff hockey,” Williams said, “and it hasn’t started yet.”
Petr Mrazek stopped all three Pittsburgh shooters in the tiebreaker, and Brock McGinn also scored for the Hurricanes.
They won their fourth in five games and earned an important two points in the tight Eastern Conference playoff race — and perhaps just as important, prevented the Penguins from picking up a second point.
Carolina, which remained in wild-card position and moved two points behind Pittsburgh for third place in the Metropolitan Division, has the NHL’s longest active postseason drought and is seeking its first playoff berth since 2009.
“It’s not like a normal day. We all know where Pittsburgh is, where we are” in the standings, Mrazek said. “Everybody’s trying to push hard, and finish checks hard on the ice and play a 60-minute game.”
Jake Guentzel had a goal and an assist, Kris Letang scored a late goal, Bryan Rust had two assists and Matt Murray made 37 saves for the Penguins, who have earned points in nine of their last 10 games against divisional opponents.
But they’ve also lost three straight, the last two coming in either overtime or the shootout after a late lead slipped away. Two nights earlier, Pittsburgh took a 2-1 OT loss to Philadelphia after allowing the Flyers to score the tying goal with 18 seconds left in regulation.
“We like to believe that we can defend leads better,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “We have in the past, and been very good at it. So I know we’re capable.”
Letang, in his first game back from an upper-body injury that sidelined him for 11 games, seemingly put the game on ice for the Penguins with his 3-on-1 goal with 4:37 left in regulation. But — with Mrazek pulled — Williams put in the rebound of Hamilton’s late shot to tie it at 2.
Letang took a 2-minute minor for slashing Sebastian Aho with 2:04 left in overtime, then also received a 10-minute misconduct for voicing his objection to that call. But the Hurricanes couldn’t make them pay, with Jack Johnson blocking Aho’s late shot into an open net.
Hamilton scored in the first round of the shootout, and Mrazek took over after that, stopping Phil Kessel, Sidney Crosby and finally Guentzel to end it. He finished with 36 saves and has won seven of his last eight starts.
“He’s phenomenal. He’s a gamer, right?” Williams asked rhetorically. “I love his enthusiasm in there. As a player on the bench when he makes a big save and he gets all jacked up like that, that gets you going. He’s in your corner and he’s a great guy to have there.”
McGinn broke a scoreless tie — and scored Carolina’s first home goal against the Penguins this season — with 10:22 left in the second, snapping the puck past Murray after taking a slick pass from Justin Faulk.
That lead lasted only 38 seconds: Guentzel took a feed from Crosby in the slot and blasted the puck past Mrazek for his fourth goal in six games.
Game notes: Carolina D Lucas Wallmark rang the crossbar late in the first. … Penguins RW Phil Kessel skated in his 320th consecutive game to break the club record set by Craig Adams from 2009-14.
Penguins: Play at Nashville on Thursday night.
Hurricanes: Continue their five-game homestand Thursday night against Tampa Bay.