RALEIGH, N.C. (AP)—The Pittsburgh Penguins had bookend goals in the second period, one in the opening 16 seconds and the other in the final minute. That, along with an inspired effort during the rest of the game, was enough to carry them to a much-needed victory.
“Anytime you play hockey, you want to play with momentum,” Sidney Crosby said. “I think a lot of guys will tell you it’s much nicer to play with a lead than it is to always be chasing.”
John LeClair whipped in a rebound for the go-ahead goal in the final minute of the second period, Crosby added his 27th of the season and the lowly Penguins beat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 Friday night.
Sebastien Caron stopped 34 shots for the Penguins, who still have the worst record in the NHL despite winning on the road for the first time in more than a month.
“It seems longer,” Crosby said. “It’s never easy losing. For us, it makes us realize how tough it is, especially against the best team in the league. That was probably one of the biggest challenges we’ve had.”
Yet they held off the top team in the Eastern Conference to end Carolina’s nine-game winning streak at home, a franchise record. It was the first loss at the RBC Center for the Hurricanes since Dec. 28, when Philadelphia handed them their third in a row overall.
That’s also the most recent time they have lost consecutive games.
“We got totally outplayed, the first 40 minutes, especially, that was where the game was lost,” Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said. “It’s too bad. Two points slipped away. Every game is important.”
Eric Staal had two goals and an assist for the Hurricanes, and his second score on a 5-on-3 with 3 minutes remaining in the game cut the margin to one. Caron survived a late rush to improve to 6-4.
“It’s always easy,” a smiling Caron said. “It was kind of tough at the end, but we’ll take it. It doesn’t matter.”
The Penguins dominated almost from the start and took the lead for good on LeClair’s good fortune. As he skated in front of the crease, teammate Ric Jackman took a shot that was stopped by goalie Cam Ward.
The rebound bounced directly to LeClair on the other side of the net, and he beat Ward to put Pittsburgh ahead 3-2 with 45 seconds remaining in the period. LeClair also had an assist on the first goal when he fed Eric Boguniecki on a 3-on-1 for a 1-0 lead.
“Right now, any win is really big for us,” LeClair said. “Team morale has been pretty low, and it’s important for us to win games and get that atmosphere going around here. We know that we can play the right way and hang on to a lead.”
Carolina came back to tie it in the final second of the first period. Ray Whitney came out of the penalty box, took a long pass from Eric Cole near the Penguins’ blue line, then lost a chance at a breakaway when the puck skittered away from him as he got near Caron.
But Staal corralled it in the left circle, and he whirled to get it past Caron right before the horn. The goal was reviewed by officials, and replays showed the puck crossed the line with 0.4 left on the clock.
“I think we just realized that was bad luck,” Crosby said. “I think we knew we were carrying the play in the first, so we weren’t too worried.”
Crosby sealed it with some patience and hard work beside the net, repeatedly whacking at the rebound of Erik Christensen’s slap shot. It finally got through Ward to make it 4-2, and the Penguins hung on from despite that late two-man advantage for Carolina.
“We didn’t play well in our own end,” Hurricanes captain Rod Brind’Amour said. “We spent too much time running around.”
The Penguins had lost nine in a row on the road since beating Montreal on Jan. 3, and they also had lost seven in a row overall. … Referee Kerry Fraser worked the 1,600 game of his career. … The overflowing crowd of 18,830 was Carolina’s seventh sellout of the season.