RALEIGH, N.C. (AP)—Back-to-back losses earlier this week left the Carolina Hurricanes out of the playoff picture and in danger of becoming only the third Stanley Cup champion to miss the postseason in the following year.
Instead of working out the troubles in practice, coach Peter Laviolette decided to give his players a day off. The strategy worked perfectly.
“You lose two in a row, it’s hard,” right wing Scott Walker said. “If you come to the rink the next day, it’s still there in the room. It was nice to get some time off.”
The loss spoiled a record-setting night for Pittsburgh second-year center Sidney Crosby, who became the youngest NHL player to reach 200 career points with a goal in the first period. The 19-year-old already was the youngest player to start the All-Star game since fan balloting began in 1986.
He had an unconventional wraparound, where he sent the puck to the far side of the net.
“I never thought that would happen,” Crosby said. “It’s a nice accomplishment.”
Frantisek Kaberle also scored for the Hurricanes, who snapped a two-game losing streak to move in front of the Montreal Canadiens for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Canadiens played later against Buffalo.
Ryan Malone tied the game at 2 in the second period with his 13th goal of the season, but the Penguins lost for the fourth time in six games. The Penguins still hold fifth place in the East.
The teams combined to go 0-for-13 on the power play in a game with playoff intensity. The Hurricanes improved to 17-13-4 at home. Last season they were 31-8-2.
“I don’t think we’ve played very well at home in front of our fans, but whether it’s home or road, the biggest thing are the points right now,” Laviolette said.
“Every night, there are games going on, and we have to keep pace.”
Crosby leads the league with 98 points, well on his way to his second consecutive season with at least 100. Wayne Gretzky is the only other teenager to reach 200 points, reaching the mark shortly before his 20th birthday.
Crosby won’t be 20 until August.
“He’s a heck of a player,” said Ward, who played against Crosby in the junior leagues. “It was smart on his part to throw it to that side.”
Walker had the third two-goal game of the season, and second against Pittsburgh. The other came way back on Oct. 14.
His last goal was eight games ago in a victory over the Los Angeles Kings, and his effort might help the Hurricanes return to the playoffs.
“You can’t worry about who gets the goals,” Walker said. “When you play hard and skate hard, sometimes the bounces go your way. I thought the guys played really well.”
After Crosby scored, the Hurricanes took advantage of a fortuitous bounce to tie the game with the teams skating 4-on-4. Niclas Wallin’s shot went well wide of the goal, but the puck bounced off the back boards and came straight to Walker, who sent a hard slap shot directly into the back of the net.
Carolina took a brief 2-1 lead less than a minute later when Kaberle sent a wrist shot through several screens to beat Jocelyn Thibault. The puck was deflected at least once, and Thibault had no chance to stop it.
“That’s the type of game you expect to play when you come here,” Thibault said. “They battled hard. We did, too.”
But the Penguins’ deficit was short-lived. Colby Armstrong centered a pass from the corner, and Malone got to the puck before defenseman Tim Gleason. Malone’s quick shot appeared to deflect off the stick of Gleason to make it 2-2.
“It was a hard-nosed game, and we didn’t back down,” Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien said. “That’s a good sign, but we didn’t execute well or have the right attitude on the power play, and that’s our strength.”