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Hurricanes close gap on Penguins in 3-2 shootout win

Two points back of third in the Metro with two games in hand? Suddenly a top-three finish seems a real possibility.

Jamie Kellner

RALEIGH — If the Carolina Hurricanes are going to make the NHL postseason for the first time since 2009, they’ll look back at games like Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout win over the Pittsburgh Penguins as the ones that punched their ticket to the postseason.

Petr Mrazek made 36 saves, including a show-stealing sequence in the third period to prevent a go-ahead goal, and Justin Williams scored the game-tying goal with two minutes left and Mrazek pulled. The Canes came through to earn the bonus point in the shootout thanks to Dougie Hamilton as the Hurricanes earned their second win of the season over the Penguins, pulling to within two point of third place in the Metropolitan Division while holding two games in hand on the Pens.

Each squad ran at no more than second gear for the first two periods, and in fact neither team had a power play until the third. The only penalties whistled on the teams in the first 40 minutes were coincidental penalties, both of which were questionable from a Canes perspective. Williams was whistled for high-sticking in the first when it was Justin Schultz’s stick that came up and hit a Penguins player in the corner, and Brett Pesce was called for the same offense when his stick came up while he was being tripped by Bryan Rust.

Brock McGinn opened the scoring on a delayed penalty sequence, rifling a shot past Murray off a beautiful setup from Justin Faulk midway through the second period. But the lead lasted all of 38 seconds, before Jake Guentzel tied it again off a feed from Sidney Crosby that gave Guentzel his 37th goal of the year.n

Haydn Fleury, still looking for his first career goal, came close in the first period, earning a partial breakaway from the faceoff dots and firing a shot that Murray deflected into the protective netting. At the other end, Mrazek had to resort to his bag of tricks to deny Dominik Simon, flailing his stick backwards and denying Simon a tap-in with the puck sitting dangerously at the far goalpost.

Justin Faulk was whistled for an iffy interference penalty five minutes into the third period, but the Canes killed it while barely allowing the Penguins any opportunity to get set up in the offensive zone. Five minutes later, Mrazek committed larceny again, somehow tracking the puck through a mad scramble iin the crease and capping it off with a poke-check save on old friend Matt Cullen that beggared belief.

With 4:37 to go, a missed call that would have given the Canes their first power play of the game sprung the Penguins on a 3-on-1 that turned into a 2-on-0 the other way. Mrazek played the puck as well as he could, but Letang had all day to pick his corner and give the Penguins the lead.

Sebastian Aho was incredulous at the non-call, loudly protesting to referee Tim Peel on his way off the ice after the goal to no avail. But with Mrazek pulled for the extra attacker, it was the captain that willed his team to tie the the game.

WIlliams’ goal, with just under two minutes to go, was his second in as many games. His 22nd of the year was followed by a Jack Johnson roughing penalty, and all of a sudden the Hurricanes had life.

The Canes started the overtime period on a short carryover power play, which didn’t convert. With 2:04 left in overtime, the Penguins were whistled for another penalty, this time Letang for slashing and a misconduct to boot. Aho had a wide-open net with 20 seconds left but couldn’t hit it thanks to a Jack Johnson block, and the game went to the shootout where Hamilton converted to win the game for the Canes.

They Said It

Rod Brind’Amour:

Yeah, [a playoff game] was exactly what it was. The whole game was tight, lots of scoring chances but not a lot of goals. You said it, playoff games are always tight and always seem to come right to the end, and obviously we got a positive outcome but that was a good effort for both teams.

[Williams] has been doing that all year for us. Great execution on that, nice to get a bounce at the end to tie it up. Goaltending is huge, and that was evident tonight, obviously. Both guys played great. It was actually fun to watch. I didn’t have to do much - we were matching lines, they were like “OK, let’s go” and let the players decide it. For the most part that’s what happened.

I don’t feel [pressure] at all. Guys are enjoying it, obviously the stakes are high but it’s just a game. Nothing really changes in it, our approach has been the same, it’s all about competing and working. Obviously you have to execute. There are areas we have to get better at, and we’ll continue to try to do that. I don’t think we feel that, really.

When you know you have a chance every time you screw up - and we had a lot of screw-ups - it doesn’t mean it’s going in our net. That’s a real good feeling. It’s not just for me - I’m not playing, but the guys feel it. It enables us to continue to do what we’re trying to do and not have to change our game or chase our game too much if we’re getting down. To me that’s been the biggest difference this year. Those guys have been great, and the team has responded.

I think we’re a confident group. I think when you do it right and you have a good foundation, you feel like there's going to be hiccups along the way but as long as you keep doing it right — I think the guys have believed in it all year — you’re never out of a game. When our goalie’s making saves, maybe we can take a little more risk here or there and it isn’t going to burn us. I think that's what happened here tonight.

Petr Mrazek:

[Williams’ goal] gives you energy, of course. We were hoping we were going to tie the game and go to overtime and we were here for two points. We got those. We battled hard.

It’s not like a normal day. We all know where Pittsburgh [is] and where we are, last home games of the season, everybody’s trying to push hard and finish checks hard on the ice.

Every game matters [a lot], but you're trying to be positive and make as many saves as you can and give your team a chance to win. We believe in each other, and we trusted that we could tie the game.

Justin Williams:

Our mistakes are from effort. Because of our effort, we’re able to recover from them. We’re learning a lot right now, we’re doing the right things, and it was a really fun game to play.

[On Mrazek:] He’s phenomenal. He’s a gamer. I love his enthusiasm in there. As a player on the bench, when he makes a big save and he gets all jacked up like that, that gets you going. He’s in your corner, and he’s a great guy to have there.

This is why we play. We’re athletes, we want to play against the world’s best and we want to compete and that’s certainly what tonight was. It was a hard-fought effort that went the extra mile.

You always have to believe you can do it. See it, think it, do it. If we’re thinking it, and believing it, the next process is doing it. We’ve been pretty good at doing that this year.

I’m proud of the way we’re playing, absolutely. I’ve said ever since the start, you don’t know how far you can go, how good you can play, until you go out there and do it. We’re playing well, and we’re going to see where it takes us. We’re going to see how good we can be.

Game Notes

  • I was thinking this was going to be a tough recap to write given that there was little to nothing going on in regulation. Then all hell broke loose with five minutes left and this turned into a classic.
  • Since that 8-1 pantsing at the hands of the Jets a week and a half ago, the Canes are 4-1-0. They’re two points behind the third-place Penguins in the Metro with two games in hand (technically, they’re in third right now based on points percentage) and four points behind the second-place Islanders (who were trounced by Boston tonight) with a game in hand. Never mind a playoff spot; home ice is a real possibility now if they can keep this up.
  • Sebastian Aho played a ridiculous 4:18 of a five-minute overtime. He finished with 28:27 in ice time, the highest number of his career.
  • The Canes won the faceoff circle in part because of secondary contributions. Nino Niederreiter, Greg McKegg and Jordan Martinook combined to go 7-for-8 at the dot, and the Canes were helped by Nick Bjugstad (4-for-14) and Matt Cullen (3-for-10) having nights to forget.
  • Brock McGinn is the Canes’ harbinger, in addition to being Wade Minter’s client. When he scores, the Canes are 8-0-1 this year, and the team is 17-0-3 when McGinn registers a point.
  • Man, I’m beat, and I’m sure you all are too. Talk to you tomorrow; the Canes practice at noon at PNC.