Following a five-game losing streak, the Hurricanes desperately needed two strong showings before they head home to rest over the All-Star weekend.
Led by goalie Cam Ward, they got exactly that.
For the second straight night, Carolina entered an opponents' arena and came away with two points, holding off Pittsburgh for a 2-1 win at Mellon Arena. The win gives the Hurricanes a 23-20-5 record, good for 51 points and the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference.
Coming off a shutout of Toronto, Ward was again in top form. The Canes gave up an early power play goal to NHL point leader Evgeni Malkin, but the Penguins couldn't get another past Ward and were unable to stop Carolina from moving ahead and holding on.
After Ray Whitney tied the score with a power play goal in the first — courtesy a perfect screen by Tuomo Ruutu — Eric Staal dominated the second period and was rewarded when he redirected a Justin Williams feed past Marc-Andre Fleury for what would prove to be the game-winner.
Tim Gleason's cross-check to the Malkin, which inadvertently hit the Russian in the face, gave Pittsburgh a four-minute power play with just a little more than that amount of time left in regulation. The Pens pulled Fleury with less than two minutes remaining for a 6-on-4 advantage, but the penalty killing units and Ward slammed the door on any potential game-tying goals.
Perhaps even more important than the two points, the Canes looked near perfect in their effort and execution over the back-to-back road games. Outside of Niclas Wallin — who looked shaky before leaving with a leg injury — everyone on Carolina minimized their errors and seemed to have an extra gear, pelting Fleury with 40 shots. Dennis Seidenberg started the game with a couple mistakes, but by the end of the night was flattening Penguins left and right and playing the kind of hockey that made him Carolina's best blueliner early in the season. Rod Brind'Amour seems to be benefitting from having less time on the penalty kill — his even-strength play the past two nights, coupled with Staal, Matt Cullen and Brandon Sutter all playing well, has the team looking better down the middle than perhaps all season. Joni Pitkanen showed his usual poise, but mixed in some grit on a few occasions, while Joe Corvo logged team high ice time on the penalty kill (6:30) and power play (5:36) time, finishing with 27:14 overall.
The Hurricanes lost Scott Walker to an upper body injury, suffered on a late hit in the first period from Pittsburgh agitator Matt Cooke that drew both Walker's ire and the penalty that would lead to Whitney's goal. Patrick Eaves saw extra time with Walker out and played like a man possessed on the forecheck and in the defensive zone.
The Canes are off until next Tuesday, with Staal heading to Montreal to defend his MVP award.