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PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Penguins don't lack finesse. Or skill. Or speed.
Yet it takes more than that to survive in the playoffs. There's a fair amount of grit involved. A willingness to get to spots on the ice that come at a physical price, too. Having a goaltender brimming with confidence helps.
The Penguins showcased all of those attributes in a 4-2 win over Carolina on Sunday that could serve as a preview of what awaits when the postseason begins in May.
Brian Boyle and Danton Heinen scored from in close, Sidney Crosby and Zach Aston-Reese provided some late cushion with empty-net scores and Tristan Jarry made 41 saves as Pittsburgh beat the Metropolitan Division-leading Hurricanes for the first time in three tries this season.
“We did a lot of little things well,” Heinen said. “We’re all competing and battling out there. They’re a good team. They’re going to make plays too. It’s a matter of bailing each other out every once in a while and (Jarry) was great back there.”
Crosby's goal was his 20th of the season, the 14th time in his career he's reached that plateau, second-most among active players behind Washington's Alex Ovechkin.
Yet it was the production from other parts of the lineup that should give the Penguins cause for optimism with the trade deadline looming in a week. Pittsburgh general manager Ron Hextall is weighing whether to add a winger with a scoring touch after watching the club's bottom six struggle in recent weeks. The former goaltender urged his role players to get to the front of the net in an effort to make something happen.
Boyle and Heinen responded by scoring from a combined 6 feet from the net while Aston-Reese's tap-in empty-netter with 12 seconds left sealed it.
“You want to have some traffic there (in front of the net),” Boyle said, later adding, “You can get rewarded there. Shots are coming. Sometimes it doesn’t feel the best, but that’s where goals can happen.”
Brett Pesce scored his fifth goal of the season and Sebastian Aho added his 27th, but Carolina lost in regulation for just the second time in its last 12 games (9-2-1). Antti Raanta finished with 19 saves but had no real chance at stopping either of the two he let in.
“Other than the result, we played hard, especially considering the result and playing three in four nights,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour said. “We actually got better as the game went on.”
Trailing by two goals heading into the third period, Carolina hemmed Pittsburgh in its end for long stretches. Jarry's steadiness and some responsible play by his teammates kept the lead intact. While the Hurricanes peppered the Penguin net and twice trimmed the deficit to one, they couldn't pull even.
“We kind of had to chase it,” Brind'Amour said. “I think they tried to, I don’t want to say sat on the lead, but they didn’t have to do anything. They were ahead. It was a good effort.”
The teams went two years without facing each other due to the COVID-19 pandemic before meeting three times in the span of three weeks, each of them with a postseason feel. The previous two games were one-goal wins for Carolina, the second in overtime.
“I think we wanted to make this one count,” Jarry said. “It was kind of our last crack at them, and we didn’t want to lose a third one to them. It meant a lot.”
The 6-foot-6 Boyle somehow snuck in front of the Carolina crease undetected late in the first period, took a feed from behind the net by Teddy Blueger and powered a one-timer by Raanta to give Pittsburgh the lead. It was his seventh goal of the season and first in a month.
Heinen picked up his second goal in four games 11:14 into the second by skating in front and redirecting Mike Matheson’s point shot.
“Just a matter of battling and getting there,” Heinen said. "That’s where you score a lot of goals. Yeah, that’s been a little bit of a point of emphasis.”
NOTES: The Penguins played without D Marcus Pettersson, who was scratched just minutes before the opening face-off in favor of Mark Friedman. ... Pittsburgh F Kasperi Kapanen skated 10:40 in his 300th NHL game. Kapanen was a healthy scratch on Friday night. ... Neither team scored on the power play. The Hurricanes were 0-1; the Penguins were 0-3.
Hurricanes: Visit Toronto on Thursday.
Penguins: Begin a three-game trip on Tuesday at Nashville.
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