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Friday, March 18, 2016

Game Recap: Pens Overcome Slow Start, Beat Canes 4-2

The Pittsburgh Penguins are certainly doing their best to prove wrong those who predicted their imminent doom in the wake of Evgeni Malkin's injury. Sidney Crosby scored 2 goals, Phil Kessel scored one and set up another with a great pass, and Matt Murray recovered from a rough opening stretch to stop 31 of 33 Carolina shots as the Penguins rallied from an early 2-0 hole to beat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-2 for their 4th consecutive victory. The win pulls them to within 1 point of the Islanders and 4 points of the Rangers in the Metropolitan Division, and it also gives them a 4 point cushion over Saturday's opponent, the Philadelphia Flyers.

It wasn't the start the Penguins were looking for. After the ceremonial puck drop to celebrate Pittsburgh's bicentennial, the Hurricanes scored on their first shot of the game 42 seconds in. The puck came to Phillip Di Giuseppe in the slot, and Matt Murray wasn't able to get into his butterfly position quick enough before Di Giuseppe was able to wrist it five hole to make the score 1-0. They'd get on the board again quickly as Carolina got a 3-on-1 5 minutes into the period, and the shot deflected off Murray and went just over the crossbar. But on the same zone entry, Jeff Skinner was able to feed Riley Skinner in front, and he beat Murray far side to make it 2-0. It was the type of start against an undermatched team that could've taken the wind out of the Penguins' sails, but Pittsburgh buckled down and displayed the resiliency they've been known for under Sullivan. The Pens began to tilt the ice towards the Carolina net, and Sidney Crosby extended his scoring streak to 10 games with his 30th goal of the season to make it 2-1. Crosby carried the puck up the left boards, dodged a check from Jaccob Slavin, and cut back in front of the net to beat Eddie Lack. Carolina had a great chance to extend their lead back to 2 seconds later when they had a 2-0 rush, but Murray was able to stand tall and deny Nathan Gerbe. Bryan Rust would be called for a boarding call against Brett Pesce shortly before the end of the period, but Carolina wasn't able to take advantage of the power play.

Carolina took the 2-1 lead into the first intermission, but the Pens would again start ramping up the pressure in the 2nd period. Pittsburgh had a 2-on-1 minutes into the period, but Conor Sheary and Eric Fehr weren't able to connect on the pass and the puck went harmlessly away. But neither team was able to score for much of the 2nd until the puck bounced off a skate to a wide open Phil Kessel driving the slot with an empty net, and Kessel put it home for his first goal in 7 games to tie it up 2-2.  Play started getting chippy shortly after with a couple scums after the play, and the refs went to take control of the situation quickly when they gave coincidental minors to Jordan Staal and Bryan Rust. Both teams would get chances on the ensuing 4-on-4, but Nick Bonino took a holding penalty behind the Carolina net to give Carolina 12 seconds of a 4-3 power play before reverting to the normal man advantage. Rush had a great chance as he exited the box and was sprung on the breakaway, but Lack was able to get his blocker on it to steer it into the corner. Carolina wasn't able to get much set up, and the Pens caught a huge break when Tom Kuhnhackl wristed the puck out of play from he defensive zone in the waning seconds of the Carolina opportunity, but the delay of game penalty was waved off when the ref said the puck was deflected out of play. It would prove to be a huge missed call for Pittsburgh, because instead of killing a second consecutive penalty Crosby was able to deflect a shot pass from Ian Cole past Lack for his second of the game, making it 3-2 Pittsburgh. Moments later Carl Hagelin was tripped in front of the Carolina net, but he was assessed and embellishment minor on the play and the teams went back to playing 4-on-4.

That wouldn't last long though as Noah Hanifin took a needless interference penalty on Sheary in the final seconds of the 2nd period. It's the type of penalty a team trying to come back can't afford to take, but Carolina managed to kill off the opportunity. And the 3rd period became about securing the lead for the Penguins. Hagelin was called for a hooking penalty midway through the period, but Victor Rask took an interference penalty in the offensive zone to help Pittsburgh kill off the penalty. The Pens would ultimately get the insurance marker with under 7 minutes to go in the game. Hagelin had a great chance in front but was stopped by Lack. Kessel would get the puck on the same possession, and he had a great pass to Bonino back door. Bonino would wrist it in behind Lack, and it would allow the Penguins to effectively ice the game. A pair of Pittsburgh penalties would give the Hurricanes a chance to make things interesting, but they were unable to best Murray and convert the opportunities.

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