Canes close out Penguins to take over first place outright in the NHL’s Metro Division

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The game ended Sunday with Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby standing in front of Carolina Hurricanes goalie Antti Raanta, whacking at the puck.

But the Canes would not allow the Penguins to tie the score, holding on for a 4-3 victory to take a two-point lead over Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan Division. Sebastian Aho’s power-play goal at 14:18 of the third period proved to be the winner, and the Canes also got rapid-fire goals to start the second and third periods from Jordan Staal and then Jesper Fast -- each scoring nine seconds into the period.

“Worked out perfectly,” Fast said. Added Staal: “We got the bounces today. We’ll take it.”

It was the 100th career victory for Raanta, who had 31 saves in his first win since Jan. 29 against New Jersey. Add in a goal from Jesperi Kotkaniemi and it was a big day for the Canes’ Finns, who also took pleasure in seeing Finland win the Olympic gold medal.

Here are five takeaways from Sunday’s game:

-- The Canes (34-11-4) are making things interesting late in games trying to hold the lead and seal victories.

The Florida Panthers tied the score late with an extra attacker and won in overtime. The Nashville Predators pulled their goalie with 5:47 left in regulation and scored twice with a sixth attacker before Andrei Svechnikov’s empty-net goal nailed down the Canes’ 5-3 win.

The Pens (31-13-8) pulled goalie Tristan Jarry, scored a 6-on-4 power-play goal Sunday to pull within 4-3, and continued to push to the final horn and Crosby’s last chops.

“We’ve got to find ways to minimize their chances,” Staal said. “Obviously good teams with their best players on the ice are going to find ways. It’s not a good feeling seeing (Crosby) at the end ... but ‘Raants’ obviously took it away from him.”

-- Svechnikov drew a slashing penalty against Kris Letang in the third that led to Aho’s goal, but only after trying to beat Jarry with a between-the-legs move and shot as he swept in front of the crease.

Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said he had no problem with Svechnikov’s decision late in a 3-2 game.

“These guys can do this stuff,” Brind’Amour said. “This is the game now. These guys have so much talent that that’s the play. It’s not the old days where none of us could do this stuff. These guys can all do this stuff. I’m certainly not going to tell him not to.”

-- The Canes can rub this in on the Canadiens if they want: Kotkaniemi has matched his career high with 11 goals. The center had 11 for Montreal in 79 games in 2018-19, his rookie season. He now has 11 in 46 games in his first season with Carolina after scoring in the past two games.

The Canes initially tried Kotkaniemi on the wing after obtaining him from Montreal via an offer sheet. That didn’t work. But once back at center, the Finn has gotten progressively better.

“I’m just trying to do the same thing every night and work as hard as I can and whatever the ice time is to use it as good as I can,” Kotkaniemi said after the game. “It’s been fun to get goals the last couple of games. It always brings your confidence up.”

-- Sidney Crosby is no longer “The Kid” at age 34 after playing almost 1,100 regular-season games and another 174 in the playoffs. But there has been no slowing down for the Pens’ biggest star. He’ll always have that dynamic vibe when he takes the ice.

Before Sunday’s game, Crosby was given a golden stick by teammates Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang to commemorate his 500th career goal. He then added No. 501 in the second period Sunday with a laser of a shot that beat Raanta.

-- The loss of Canes defenseman Brendan Smith, who took a puck off the side of his helmet in the first period, made for heavy workloads for the other D-men. Brett Pesce played 28 minutes, Jaccob Slavin more than 27 and Brady Skjei almost 26.

“Our D played phenomenal, logging all those minutes,” Brind’Amour said. “They had to and I give them a lot of credit.”

Brind’Amour did not have an update on Smith’s condition after the game. The Canes play Monday in Philadelphia against the Flyers.