Heavy playoff implications were on the line this evening when the Penguins traveled to Raleigh to face-off against the Carolina Hurricanes. Coming off two losses over the weekend, the Penguins were looking to get back on track and solidify their playoff positioning. Here’s how it all went down, starting with the lineups for both sides.
For the Penguins:
No Evgeni Malkin who is out week-to-week with an upper-body injury so Teddy Blueger slots in as the 2C. Kris Letang makes his much anticipated return to the lineup after an upper-body injury of his own three weeks ago. Matt Murray is back in between the pipes once again.
Now for the host Hurricanes:
Nino Niederreiter faces the Pens for the first time as a member of the Hurricanes. A few familiar names mixed in there for Penguins’ fans, specifically Jordan Staal and Greg McKegg. Petr Mrazek gets the nod in net.
With his participation in tonight’s game, Phil Kessel set a new franchise record for consecutive games played at 320 straight contests. Kessel passes Craig Adams as the Penguins all-time “Iron Man” leader.
Kessel’s entire streak is pushed to 764 consecutive games played, dating back to November 2009 when he was with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In the opening five minutes of play, the Penguins had the ice titled in their favor for the most part, creating chances on Mrazek while making life very difficult on the Hurricanes by clogging up neutral zone and forcing turnovers. Jared McCann had the best look at goal in the opening minutes but the puck stayed out and the game remained scoreless.
Closing in on the midway point of the first period and the Hurricanes started creating issues for the Penguins defense. Rookie Andrei Svechnikov put a shot on goal that Murray was able to fight off but not fully corral and the Hurricanes crashed the crease but Murray was able to ice the puck and force a whistle to end the threat.
Much like Sunday night, the pace of play was crisp and generally whistle free through the opening ten minutes. The only major difference between the two games was the bountiful amount of chances each side was creating using their speed and skill. Still, chances were simply chances and the teams remained scoreless.
Once they settled down the Hurricanes started to show what makes them such a dangerous team to play against. They like to take a lot of shots and give opponents very little time and space to make anything happen on their end.
Just past the 13 minutes mark of the opening period and the Penguins came within inches of scoring the first goal. Nick Bjugstad put a seemingly harmless shot on Mrazek but the puck squeaked under the goalies pad and trickled off the post, allowing Mrazek enough time to recover and keep the puck out on a follow up attempt.
Bjugstad got another chance to break the ice a few minutes later but Mrazek denied him a second time. Drifting through the slot, Bjugstad cleverly deflected a pass from the half wall on goal but Mrazek absorbed the shot to keep it out.
Approaching the final minute of play in the first period Bjugstad had a third look at the opening goal of the contest but Mrazek was up to the task once again. Off a cross-ice pass, Bjugstad had a great look at an open net but Mrazek slid his right pad over to make the stop.
After the three Bjugstad chances, the Hurricanes had a prime one of their own from the slot area but the shot rang off the post and bounced harmlessly away.
A fast paced and exciting opening 20 minutes of hockey had it fair share of chances and highlights but neither team had any goals to show for it and entered the first intermission locked in a scoreless duel.
Three minutes into the second period and it looked like the Hurricanes were going to draw the first penalty of the game but some good selling by Sidney Crosby made it a 4-on-4 situation instead. First, Crosby was nailed with a trip against Sebastian Aho but just as the Penguins were gaining possession to stop play, Crosby was clipped high with a stick that looked to be from Justin Williams. On further review, it was actually Justin Schultz who hit Crosby in the face with a high stick, but the Pens did not complain.
Out of the box, Crosby had a good look at goal but his shot was turned away by Mrazek who continued to be on his game through the opening 26 minutes of play on the night.
After the brief 4-on-4 sequence, the game opened once again after a slow start to the second period. Chances were developing for both teams but it was the Hurricanes who took advantage first to break the ice. On a delayed penalty call, Brock McGinn was allowed to skate through the slot unimpeded and beat Murray clean for a 1-0 Hurricanes lead.
Brock you like a Hurricane pic.twitter.com/HyDxWP4zvg— Carolina Hurricanes (@NHLCanes) March 20, 2019
Any momentum the Hurricanes gained from the opening tally was quickly wiped away just 38 seconds later. Jake Guentzel had a clear look at goal from the high slot and ripped a shot through some bodies and beat Mrazek to level the score at 1-1 just past the 10 minute mark.
The game returned to 4-on-4 action after another bizarre sequence that resulted in a penalty against both teams. Bryan Rust was sent to the box for interfering Brett Pesce but as Pesce was falling to the ice, his stick came up and clipped Rust in the face, resulting in a high sticking call.
Back to 5-on-5 play after the penalties expired and the chances just kept coming both ways. Murray came up with a big stop in close on Dougie Hamilton then Mrazek was able to turn away a blast from Justin Schultz to keep the game even a one goal apiece.
In the late minutes of the period, the physicality factor jumped a few notches with a pair of crunching hits. Erik Gudbranson toppled Jordan Staal into the corner after a pass attempt then Micheal Ferland returned the favor with a strong check on Patric Hornqvist as the puck sailed out of play.
Goals from McGinn and Guentzel just 38 seconds apart stood out in an action pack second period of play as the teams returned to the locker room still with a deadlock on the scoreboard.
Five minutes into the final period of play the Penguins were awarded the game’s first power play of the night when Bryan Rust was interfered with by Justin Faulk. Rust chipped the puck around Faulk and used his speed to draw a call when Faulk attempted to cut him from getting back to the puck.
If you were hoping the return of Kris Letang would be the boost the Penguins power play needed to get back on track then you were left disappointed after the Hurricanes easily killed the Faulk minor with no damage done on the scoreboard.
As the third period hit the 10 minutes mark the Penguins had several looks at goal from a scramble in front but they just could not find a way to get the puck past Mrazek to get a go ahead goal. Matt Cullen had the best look off a rebound but as he tried to move the puck to his backhand Mrazek knocked it away with a timely poke check.
MRAZEK WITH A BEAUTY OF A POKE CHECK pic.twitter.com/oTStjb66qD— Carolina Hurricanes (@NHLCanes) March 20, 2019
The Penguins continued to pile on the pressure as the period went along but Mrazek was there every time to keep the game level. Big saves on Letang and Dumoulin highlighted his efforts but Mrazek was solid all night long for the Hurricanes.
With just under five minutes left the Penguins took advantage of a disorganized Hurricanes defense and cashed in on a 3-on-1 rush. Jake Guentzel was sent ahead but he pulled up and sent a pass over to Bryan Rust who was in alone on Mrazek with Letang nearby. Rust sent a pass right to Letang who was able to lift it over a sliding Mrazek for a 2-1 Penguins lead with 4:37 remaining.
Letang ties his career-high for goals in a season and gets the lead for the good guys late in the 3rd period. We like what we see! pic.twitter.com/UWv3q3BxCv— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 20, 2019
Locked in a fierce playoff battle and needing points, the Hurricanes pulled Mrazek for the extra attacker with 2:30 left on the clock in an effort to do everything they could to find an equalizer. That decision paid off just 30 seconds later when Murray mishandled a fluttering shot and the rebound fell right to Justin Williams to tapped it into an open net to bring the score level at 2-2.
Seconds after the tying goal hit the back of the net, the Hurricanes went to the power play when Jack Johnson was whistled for roughing on a check from behind in the corner. From down a goal to a chance to win it in regulation, the Hurricanes pushed for a winner late with the man advantage but the Penguins penalty kill did enough to keep the score level and send the game to overtime.
Before they could worry about scoring a winner, the Penguins had to focus on killing off the remaining time on the Johnson minor. They did that successfully to get back to even strength.
Justin Williams had a golden chance to win the game early in overtime but Murray robbed the Hurricanes’ captain at point blank range to keep his team alive. Moments later, the Hurricanes had another chance at the victory when Sebastian Aho was sent clean on a breakaway but Murray came up big once again to keep the Penguins alive.
On the Aho breakaway, Letang was called for a late slash against the shooter which put the Hurricanes back on the power play for the bulk of the remainder of the overtime period. Letang was also given a 10 minute misconduct for his actions and thrown out of the game.
Aho had his second look at the game winner on the power play but his shot ticketed for a wide open net was denied by the left skate of Jack Johnson. The Penguins were able to kill off the rest of the Letang minor to send the game to a decisive shootout.
Dougie Hamilton— GOAL
Phil Kessel— NO GOAL
Sebastian Aho— NO GOAL
Sidney Crosby— NO GOAL
Jaccob Slavin— NO GOAL
Jake Guentzel— NO GOAL
Hurricanes win shootout 1-0
- They need to figure out the power play problems in a hurry. Only one opportunity tonight but it was less than inspiring even with Letang.
- Another massive night from the penalty kill. Killing most of the Johnson minor to hang on to a point then killing off the Letang minor to force a shootout.
- If you ever had any doubt about the importance of Kris Letang then tonight was a good reminder of what he brings when he’s on the ice.
- The tying goal will not go on his highlight reel, but it was another strong performance from Matt Murray. Good to see him bounce back after Saturday’s debacle.
- At some point they are going to have to find a way to close out these third period leads. This is now their fourth blown lead since February 23rd.
- Two teams have voluntarily traded away Dougie Hamilton.
- A point is a point but there is still a lot of work do for that playoff spot. Next chance is on Thursday night in Nashville.