Coming off a couple of playoff-style wins in which they won third periods in tight games to move into the top spot in the NHL, the Carolina Hurricanes faced a different task Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh.
The result was different too.
The Penguins entered the third period with a two-goal lead and survived a 20-shot third period by the Hurricanes to win 4-2 and snap Carolina’s four-game winning streak.
“I’m happy with this game other than the result,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “We played hard.”
Playing their third game in four nights, including back-to-back matinees with a lost hour for daylight saving time, the Hurricanes faced a two-goal deficit at the start of the third period.
But rather than pack it in, Carolina unleashed an onslaught on the Penguins.
The Hurricanes outshot Pittsburgh 20-4 in the final 20 minutes — half of the home team’s shots went into an empty net — and finally solved Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry early in the third.
After a prolonged cycle in the Penguins zone, Carolina halved the lead when defenseman Brett Pesce cleanly beat Jarry’s glove from the slot for his fifth goal of the season at 4:40 of the third period.
“I found a little soft spot,” said Pesce, who had a career-high seven shots on goal. “They were kind of at the top of the circles and (Vincent Trocheck) found me and I just tried to throw it on net.”
The Hurricanes continued to pressure the Penguins and Jarry (41 saves), and Carolina pulled goalie Antti Raanta with under two minutes remaining.
Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby quickly scored a 200-foot empty-net goal with 1:39 remaining to reestablish Pittsburgh’s two-goal cushion.
Sebastian Aho scored his 27th goal of the season 14 seconds later with Raanta (18 saves) again on the bench, but Zach Aston-Reese sealed the win for the Penguins with a second empty-netter with 12 seconds remaining.
“The whole season you’re gonna learn from every game … so it definitely helps when you get these experiences in the tight games,” Aho said.
The Penguins staked themselves to a two-goal lead with goals in each of the opening two periods.
In the final 75 seconds of the opening frame, Penguins center Brian Boyle rubbed out Teuvo Teravainen at the near boards then beat him to the front of the net, finishing off a pass from Teddy Blueger to open the scoring at 18:50 of the first.
Pittsburgh doubled its lead just past the game’s midway point.
After Nino Niederreiter turned the puck over at the Carolina blue line, Mike Matheson’s point shot was redirected by Danton Heinen and the puck trickled through Raanta to make it 2-0 at 11:14 of the second.
“We gave up a couple, got some weird bounces and that happens,” Brind’Amour said.
What comes next won’t be as easy as shaking off a hard-fought loss.
While the Hurricanes won’t play again until Thursday, the last time this season the team will have three days without games, they have nine in 15 days starting with that game in Toronto and have 23 games remaining with six weeks left in the regular season.
The lessons learned in another tight game should help during the stretch run — and into the postseason.
“I think we’re a very confident team and we’re comfortable playing at any score and any game,” Pesce said. “We have the confidence. We believe we’re going to win every night.”
Notes: The Hurricanes outshot Pittsburgh 43-22 and are now 6-5-0 when having at least 40 shots on goal. … Carolina had just one power play opportunity, the 10th time this season the Hurricanes have had one or zero power plays.