- The Carolina Hurricanes wanted to establish themselves as a tough team to play against at home, and they did so tonight, downing the Atlantic Division-leading Pittsburgh Penguins 4-1. Jiri Tlusty potted two goals, his fourth two-goal effort in his last nine games, and Cam Ward, who was “celebrating” a leap-year birthday, made 26 saves. Head coach Kirk Muller said it was the most complete effort the team had put forth at home this season. “The guys were focused and ready to go,” he said. “You could see it this morning, the energy of knowing we had some guys back.”
- The Canes had a glut of injured players reinsert themselves into the lineup, as Jeff Skinner, Tim Gleason, Tim Brent and Jamie McBain dressed, and all contributed in some way. Skinner scored a goal (his eighth of the season), Gleason recorded an assist (his third of the season), Brent logged 3:35 of power play time as the quarterback on the first unit and Jamie McBain played 18:32, evening out the ice time among the six defensemen. “They all wanted to play, and they all did a great job jumping in and contributing,” Muller said. “That’s how you build a team with that kind of character.”
- This was the first time Jordan Staal faced the team he played 431 games with over six seasons, and it was clear the Hurricanes – after dropping Alexander Semin’s homecoming on Tuesday – wanted to win this one for Staal. Though he didn’t record a point, Staal was a plus-one and logged 21:27 of ice time.
- In what he called his best game at home this season, Ward stopped 26 of the 27 shots he faced in the Canes’ win. Five-for-five on the penalty kill tonight, the Hurricanes have killed off 22 of their last 23 penalties. Ward was quick to credit the group in front of him. “For the most part, we contained their high-skilled players,” he said. “Blocking a lot of shots and not giving them anything.”
- Despite falling 3-0 in Washington on Tuesday, Ward was a bright spot, making 37 saves. He carried that play seamlessly into tonight. “We got him some goals tonight,” Muller said. “He’s focused right now. When he plays like that, he’s up there with the elite goalies. He was competing tonight. I liked how he was mentally prepared.”
- The Hurricanes continue to thrive in the second period at home. With three goals in the middle frame tonight, the Canes have outscored opponents 13-4 at home and 23-13 overall in the second period.
- Muller is not one to shy away from a symbolic opening lineup; he started Ryan Murphy in his first NHL game, he started Kevin Westgarth in his 100th career game and he started Semin in Washington on Tuesday. So, Muller threw Jordan Staal’s line out to start, which set the stage for Staal and Brandon Sutter to take the opening faceoff. Staal won the draw. “It was his game tonight,” Muller said. “He was definitely going to start no matter who it was”
- The Hurricanes have two straight divisional match-ups ahead, as they face Florida in a home-and-home, back-to-back over the weekend. “This is a big week for us,” Eric Staal said. “The division is tightening up. We want to stay ahead and get ahead of the group.”
The Southeast Division co-leaders erased an early 1-0 deficit by scoring three goals in a span of 6 minutes, 14 seconds and won for just the second time in six games.
Chris Kunitz scored for the Penguins, who entered leading the Atlantic Division but were held without a power-play goal for the first time since Feb. 2.
Cam Ward made 26 saves for Carolina.
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 25 shots for the Penguins, who have lost the first two games of a three-game road swing.
But while Jordan Staal didn't show up on the score sheet, big brother Eric sure did: The line he centered for Tlusty and Semin produced three goals.
The Hurricanes started their scoring binge in the final minute of the first period, tying it at 1 with 24.1 seconds left when Eric Staal redirected Semin's spinning shot.
Tlusty then made it 2-1 by stuffing in the rebound of Eric Staal's close-range shot 4:03 into the second.
Skinner pushed the lead to 3-1 just 1:46 later when he scored off a pretty backhand pass from Patrick Dwyer.
Tlusty capped Carolina's three-goal second period and made it a three-goal game with 10.1 seconds left.
That had the Hurricanes on their way to yet another victory over a non-Southeast Division team. They are 0-5 against the other four teams in their division - and 10-3-1 against everybody else.
This one started just as the stat sheet suggested it would - with the Penguins scoring first.
Sidney Crosby delivered a pretty cross-ice pass to Kunitz, who fired a one-timer past Ward to make it 1-0 with 6:46 left. The Penguins entered outscoring their opponents 23-9 in the first period, while Carolina had been outscored 21-7 in the opening 20 minutes.
And for more than 19 minutes of the period, it looked as though those stats would hold - until Staal's redirection started the Hurricanes' flurry against Fleury.
NOTES: Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said C Evgeni Malkin, who missed his third straight game with a concussion, skated for the second consecutive day at the team's practice facility south of Pittsburgh - and uncorked a nifty trick shot, sending a puck into a bag from center ice. Bylsma said there is no timetable for Malkin's return. ... Skinner was one of four Hurricanes who returned from injuries, joining D Tim Gleason, D Jamie McBain and C Tim Brent. ... Carolina was 1-4 without Skinner.