Pittsburgh Penguins Blow Away Hurricanes in Shootout

Jan 21, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Carl Hagelin (62) and right wing Phil Kessel (81) celebrate after Kessel scored his second goal of the game against the Philadelphia Flyers during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 21, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Carl Hagelin (62) and right wing Phil Kessel (81) celebrate after Kessel scored his second goal of the game against the Philadelphia Flyers during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes played a tight game, but ultimately Phil Kessel and Kris Letang led the Penguins to a shootout win over their divisional foes.

In some ways, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes are almost mirror images of each other right now. They’re struggling in the same ways, desperately battling each other for the bottom playoff spot, and have many players and staff members who have ties to both teams.

I’ve never watched two teams full of clones play hockey against each other, but if I had, I imagine it would look a lot like tonight’s game.

From the instant former teammates Jordan Staal and Sidney Crosby took the opening faceoff, these Metropolitan rivals showed they meant business. Very evenly-matched business, that is.

Both teams obviously understand the importance of every divisional win as the game was speedy from the start. Every shift seemed to span the whole length of the ice, culminating in a shot or two on goal each time.

The Penguins were looking to rebound from a shutout loss to the New York Rangers several nights ago; the Canes from a dismal Canadian road trip. Coming into the game, both teams boasted a record of 8-3-2 in recent games, and the Penguins sit only four points above Carolina in the second wild-card spot.

The similarities don’t end there, either. Both starting goaltenders, Marc-Andre Fleury and Cam Ward, are all-star caliber players and countered every shot in the first period.  Ward has won three of his last four games against the Penguins; however, the Penguins shut out the Hurricanes 5-0 the last time they met.

The first call of the game went against Patric Hornqvist, doing his usual Patric Hornqvist thing. Luckily for the Penguins, the Hurricanes’ leading powerplay scorer, defenseman Justin Faulk, is out of the lineup with a lower-body injury, and the penalty was killed with no harm done.

Jan 12, 2016; Raleigh, NC, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins forward Phil Kessel (81) waits for the face off against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 12, 2016; Raleigh, NC, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins forward Phil Kessel (81) waits for the face off against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports /

Phil Kessel had myriad opportunities to score in the first: the combined speed of Carl Hagelin and Kessel easily cut through the young Carolina defense time and time again. 5 of the Penguins’ 8 shots were credited to “Phil the Thrill” and his other linemate, Matt Cullen.

Cullen is more than familiar with the Hurricanes, winning the Stanley Cup with them ten years ago along with former Penguin Craig Adams and current Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford.

Even with the second line’s relentless play, the fast-paced first period ended in a scoreless tie as the goalies proved to be the defining factors.

Early in the second period, John-Michael Liles took a holding penalty and the Penguins powerplay took the ice. Just as the Canes are without their leading PP scorer, so are the Pens. Evgeni Malkin is still out of the lineup, and par for the course, their powerplay is hurting for it.

Liles escaped the box with the board still blank.

Trevor Daley was soon called for a hooking penalty and put the Canes back on the man advantage. Daley, who was injured against the Rangers on Wednesday and left the game after only playing three minutes, is paired with former Carolina draft pick Brian Dumoulin.

The penalty on Daley was also killed off. During the penalty, several Penguins contributed by blocking shots, notably Dumoulin and Olli Maatta, and Tom Kuhnhackl made a halfhearted attempt at a shorthanded rush. 

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Kessel finally broke the stalemate and put the Penguins ahead, getting assists from Hagelin and Cullen. With the way that line was playing, it was only a matter of time until one (or all) of them got on the board.

From the Daley penalty on, though, both teams looked a little disjointed. Several missed passes by both teams, awkward checks, and repeated offsides and icing calls prevented either side from getting a rhythm, even after the Kessel marker.

The Penguins tightened up their play somewhat in the second period, narrowing the shot count gap and laying more hits, but Jordan Staal was a force to be reckoned with on the faceoff dot.

Though his older brother Eric is the captain and the most offensively gifted Staal brother, Jordan has been on fire lately whereas Eric has… not. Their second line, made up of Jordan, Andrej Nestrasil, and Joakim Nordstrom, has been the wind in Carolina’s sails.

Oh, look at that. Another similarity.

In the third period the Hurricanes really kicked into desperation mode. Sustained pressure in the Penguins’ zone and tired players on both sides led to a Kris Letang penalty.

Just before that was called, though, Kessel appeared to take a skate to the chest and left the game in pain. Luckily, he returned shortly after the Letang penalty was killed.

During the penalty, Kevin Porter had a shorthanded one-on-one chance but rookie phenom Noah Hanifin denied him from getting a shot off on Ward.

With just over five minutes remaining in the game, Carolina’s second line cashed in as Nestrasil whistled one right past Fleury. Nordstrom and Liles grabbed the assists, as Nordstrom dished a drop-pass back for Nestrasil.

Both goals scored so far in the game were by second-line wingers from a tight angle.

Most of the third period felt like it was spent in the Penguins’ zone, but Fleury stood on his head over and over to keep the game tied. “The Flower” made a point-blank save on the dangerous duo of Hanifin and Jeff Skinner and then somehow kept the puck out of the net as everyone on the ice converged on him.

The Penguins have not lost this season when bringing a lead into the third period, and (spoiler alert!) maintained that impressive statistic tonight.

As the overtime session started, the Penguins sent out Hagelin, Crosby, and Letang. All the energy that seemed to be missing from the Pittsburgh bench in the third period reappeared: Letang knocked down a mid-air pass and set up a nice play that Hagelin just couldn’t execute.

Feb 6, 2016; Sunrise, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) celebrates his game winning goal against the Florida Panthers with teammates in overtime at BB&T Center. The Penguins won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 6, 2016; Sunrise, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) celebrates his game winning goal against the Florida Panthers with teammates in overtime at BB&T Center. The Penguins won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports /

The whole team used their strengths to try to win as the five extra minutes ticked down: Hagelin and Kessel’s speed, Crosby’s endurance and hockey sense, Cullen’s adeptness at faceoffs. 3-on-3 overtime is really an arena in which the Penguins shine, though of course even more so when Malkin is healthy.

Again, both teams proved too evenly matched for the extra stanza to solve anything and the game went to a shootout.

Carolina went first and Chris Terry shot right into Fleury’s pads. As a counter, Pittsburgh sent Crosby out, but he shot high.

Next, Phil Di Giuseppe got his first career shootout opportunity, but didn’t get off to an impressive start. Kunitz went next, trying to fake out Ward, but also shot right into the goalie’s pads.

Elias Lindholm was the third shooter for the Hurricanes and shot entirely wide of the net. Letang, who went 0-for-2 in the shootout portion of the All-Star Game, went top shelf and scored, ending the game with a much-needed Penguin victory.

Next up, these tired Penguins head to Sunrise for a rematch against the Florida Panthers.

Next: Pittsburgh Penguins Must Beat Division Rivals