RALEIGH — After spending the last few days being referred to as the brother of Team USA women’s hockey gold medalist Amanda Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins winger Phil Kessel reminded the world he’s not a footnote.
Kessel had two goals and a beautiful assist, leading the two-time defending champions to a 6-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes in front of 18,180 Friday at PNC Arena.
The high-powered Penguins were aided by the absence of Hurricanes No. 1 center Jordan Staal, who was a late scratch due to a “personal/family reasons.” Carolina being without its best defensive forward was noticeable.
“We had a lot of situations tonight where we would’ve used him, obviously didn’t, and that hurt us,” Carolina coach Bill Peters said following his team’s fourth straight loss.
“We had a really good chance to take over, win some games,” Teuvo Teravainen, who scored Carolina’s lone goal, said of the skid. “And now we just can’t do it. We have to regroup and think about ourself and get the confidence right back. I mean, we’re right there. We just have to compete and get our confidence.”
Without Staal, the Hurricanes had trouble matching up with the deep Penguins, who have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kessel all on different lines. Friday it was Kessel who benefitted most.
With Pittsburgh leading 2-1 early in the second period, Kessel scored twice — his 25th and 26th goals of the season — to push the Penguins out of reach.
“I thought they capitalized on our mistakes,” Peters said. “We made enough mistakes that they make you pay. When you make mistakes against this team here, it ends up in the net. That’s what they did.”
Both teams came out fast, but it was the Penguins who scored first.
After Noah Hanifin lost track of a puck in the corner and his clearing attempt was kept in by Pittsburgh, Kessel cruised through the slot, curled and fed the puck to Jake Guentzel on the backdoor for an easy tap-in and a 1-0 Penguins leads at 13:36 of the first.
Pittsburgh extended its lead early in the second period.
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin beat Victor Rask on a faceoff in the Carolina end and defenseman Olli Maatta’s point shot beat Cam Ward (33 saves) to extend the lead to two just 46 seconds into the middle frame.
The Hurricanes got on the board when Sebastian Aho won a race to nullify an icing, getting the puck to Elias Lindholm who found Teuvo Teravainen for his 15th goal of the season.
That’s when Kessel took over.
The 30-year-old sniper first ripped a one-time snap shot off a feed from Guentzel at 6:11 of the second.
Then over two minutes later, Kessel scored again on the rush when his shot from the doorstep slowly trickled through a lunging Ward’s pads and, after review, was ruled a goal to stretch the lead to 4-1.
The Penguins added another goal on their only power play, with Crosby scoring off a Kris Letang rebound to make it 5-1 midway through the third period.
Then after Carolina failed to score on the man advantage, Malkin added to the misery scoring on his third chance in front on Ward, pushing the lead to five and leading to Ward breaking his stick on the post — and earning a 10-minute misconduct.
“We left him out to dry tonight, for sure,” defenseman Brett Pesce said.
With a game Saturday in Detroit, the Hurricanes have a quick chance for some redemption. They’ll likely be without Staal again, Peters said, but Justin Williams — wearing an “A” for the first time this season in Staal’s absence — and others made it clear Friday’s effort wasn’t good enough.
“The storyline is they outworked us and they showed us they wanted it more tonight, and it’s frustrating because we’ve got to be better, and certainly I’m at the top of that list,” Williams said.
Notes: Rask was minus-4 on the night and was on the ice for the Penguins first four goals. … Teravainen’s goal, his 15th, matched his career high set last season. … The Hurricanes were outshot 39-28. Kessel, Malkin and Guentzel all finished with three points. … Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz, playing his first game since Feb. 15, was plus-4.