One win away from their first back-to-back division titles in 20 years, the Pittsburgh Penguins turned in a mostly-weary performance in a 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night.
It wasn’t all bad for the Penguins (48-23-5, 101 points) at Consol Energy Center, as they compiled an 11-1 shot advantage in the opening 10 minutes and took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Chris Kunitz. Sidney Crosby earned an assist on the play, giving him 100 points in a season for the fifth time in his career.
But the Hurricanes (33-32-11, 77 points) went on to register 22 of the next 31 shots in building a 3-1 lead after two periods. Rookie Elias Lindholm scored two consecutive goals in the decisive middle frame, once off a nice pass from Jeff Skinner during a power play and another time after an odious Deryk Engelland giveaway.
Justin Faulk and Eric Staal also scored for Carolina, which earned its first win in Pittsburgh since March 2010, a span of six games without a victory. Andrei Loktionov and Skinner picked up a pair of assists each, while goalie Anton Khudobin was frequently strong in denying 30 shots.
Khudobin had his best stretch of play in the first, but he didn’t even have to make a save when Brian Gibbons shot wide on his first NHL penalty shot. Ron Hainsey was whistled for grabbing Gibbons on a partial break, thereby awarding the Penguins their third penalty shot of the season.
Moments later, Kunitz connected for his career-best 35th goal off a fluky sequence. Crosby and Lee Stempniak worked to pry the puck loose from the side wall, then Kunitz unleashed a wrister that glanced off his stick and a Carolina defender at the same time, slingshotting it past a confused Khudobin at 9:01 of the first.
Defenseman and U.S. Olympian Faulk tied the score 5 1/2 minutes later with a slap shot that hopped into the net off Marc-Andre Fleury‘s shoulder. Fleury stopped 24 shots, but couldn’t match his level of play from the Penguins’ consecutive wins over Columbus and Chicago leading into Tuesday.
Pittsburgh still hasn’t won three straight regulation games since mid-December, but the Pens pushed back in the late stages of the third to add some juice to the final minutes. Crosby and Carolina’s Jay Harrison notably got tangled up after a long shift in the Hurricanes zone, drawing some cheers from the fans who remained.
The Pens hit the road for three in a row, starting with a Thursday matchup in Winnipeg.