And a few seconds later it was all over, players racing off the bench to congratulate both Peters and defenseman Brian Pothier, who scored just 23 seconds into overtime as the Carolina Hurricanes continued a late-season push that rivals last year’s final stretch with a 4-3 victory against the Pens.
Huffing and puffing their way through this one after playing an overtime game against the best team in the Eastern Conference last night in Washington, the Canes found a way to extend their home winning streak to eight and moved within three points of the New York Rangers for ninth in the conference.
Peters stopped 37 shots on this night and got help from four posts, but his kick save on Pascal Dupuis in the last two minutes of regulation was his best save on a night when he had nearly a dozen show-stoppers to improve to 4-1 in his five NHL starts.
“I was just trying to stay focused because I knew the job wasn’t done,” Peters said of his alone moment in the crease before heading to the bench prior to OT. “I was excited going into the game, but at the same time you have got to try and take the same approach.
“I couldn’t be happier the way it worked out. It was just fighting to the end. Just like this team. There is no quit in this locker room.”
That save on Dupuis allowed the game to head to the extra period, where the Canes countered a rush off the opening face-off by Sidney Crosby with one of their own. After appearing to lose the puck in the corner, Ray Whitney regained control and rifled a cross-ice pass to a charging Pothier, whose one-timer beat Brent Johnson and gave the Canes yet another win over the Pens. Carolina is 12-5-2 against Pittsburgh in the regular season since the start of the 2005-06 season.
“Ray is a special player and he sees the ice better than most guys do, and he wasn’t looking at me but I had a feeling that he saw me, and he put it right under somebody’s stick and through a set of legs right on my tape,” Pothier said. “It was a beautiful pass."
Staal was between Whitney and Pothier and standing in front of Johnson in the crease and originally thought the pass from The Wizard was intended for him.
“Right away I was yelling for the puck because I thought I could beat my guy off the wall and then as soon as it started coming in toward my feet I said, ‘Well, this isn’t for me I better get out of the way’ so I got in front of the goalie to set up a screen and Pothier made a great shot.”
Staal scored his first goal since the Olympic break and first in nine games early in the second when he banked the puck off of Johnson and a Pittsburgh defenseman as he was able to skate freely beside the cage.
Carolina’s first lead of the game lasted just four minutes as Matt Cooke beat Peters from the slot to tie the score at 3-3.
The Canes wasted a golden opportunity to take the lead into the third period when they failed to convert on a two-man advantage for 1:39, not even getting a shot on Johnson late in the second.
“We have to look at (Pothier) on the 5-on-3, clearly,” coach Paul Maurice joked after the game. “We said if we win the game we don’t have to talk about the 5-on-3 and if we lose it’s the first question I’m getting.”
The Canes were on their heels and allowed too much skating room for the second straight game against another division-leading opponent, and once again fell behind 2-0 in the first period, this time in quick fashion as the Pens scored twice in the opening 5:29.
Carolina didn’t back off after its rough start, scoring a pair in a span of 1:26 to get the home crowd back in the game. Ray Whitney scored 10 seconds after a Sergei Gonchar boarding penalty, then rookie Zach Boychuk broke in free off a face-off just outside the blue line and placed a perfect back-hander from the high slot past Johnson, who was shifting in the other direction as Boychuk’s shot zipped over his shoulder.
“I saw that it was one-on-two, so I just tried to make a little fake and get a shot off and their D-man was a bit of a screen, but it was good to get a nice goal,” Boychuk said. “It has been a lot of fun with back-to-back nights when one night it was Ovechkin and the next night Crosby.”
Whitney’s goal was his fourth goal in three games against Pittsburgh this season.
“Again, just being here for a short time, this dressing room is a ton of character guys and they don’t get discouraged, even if they are down early against a really good team,” Pothier said of the comeback. “We battle, make simple plays, stick to our game plan and we create enough turnovers where we get opportunities.”
NOTES: Carolina has scored four or more goals in eight of the last 11 games. … Brandon Sutter didn’t return after the first period with a lower-body injury. … Whitney notched his ninth 20-goal season and fourth straight with the Canes … Whitney also reached the 50-point plateau for the 10th time in his career. … Staal has 24 points in 22 career games against Pittsburgh. … The Canes won for just the sixth time this season with the opposition scoring first. … Tuomo Ruutu’s five-game assist streak was snapped, as was Jussi Jokinen’s three-game goal streak. … The Canes blocked 16 shots compared to four for Pittsburgh.