PITTSBURGH — It was essentially a playoff game for both teams and like a playoff game, it was decided by unexpected heroes. The Pittsburgh Penguins fourth line with Adam Johnson, Matt Cullen, and Garrett Wilson scored a pair of first period goals as Johnson earned his first two NHL points. Patric Hornqvist also ended a nearly three-month-old dry spell of even strength goals as the Penguins beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-1 at PPG Paints Arena on Sunday afternoon.
The Penguins magic number is now just two points.
The Penguins also earned an important two points. The win solidified the Penguins hold on third place in the Metro division and put them four points ahead of Carolina with three games left. The Penguins also closed to within two points of the New York Islanders for second place and home ice in the potential Round One series and shrunk
In the first period, the Penguins grifted several pucks from the Carolina defense in the Carolina zone. Actually, the Penguins took the puck with force. Midway through the period, Wilson earned his second goal of the year after A. Johnson used his speed to gain a loose puck deep in the Carolina zone and gain his first NHL point. After a jam up in the crease, Wilson (2) poked it into the net. Cullen had the other assist.
Late in the first period, Johnson earned another assist with a full sprint backcheck. He chipped a puck back to center ice to create a two-on-one for Matt Cullen and defenseman Olli Maatta. Cullen (7) snapped his shot to the far post past Carolina goalie Curtis McElhinney.
The Penguins multi-goal lead put them in a defensive shell in the second period as they smothered the defensive zone. Carolina may have controlled more territory but had only nine shots on goal. The Penguins took only seven.
Patric Hornqvist, who had not scored an even strength goal since Jan. 5 provided the backbreaker just 41 seconds into the third period. Dominik Simon raced into the Carolina zone in pursuit of a loose puck. He immediately dropped it to Hornqvist (18) who was trailing the play. The puck barely touched Hornqvist’s stick as he quickly whipped it past surprised Carolina goalie Curtis McElhinney.
Hornqvist has never failed to score 20 goals in a full NHL season. The Hornqvist breakout was the subject of PHN’s Sunday morning column–it’s nice when players comply with predictions.
Carolina defenseman Jaccob Slavin scored a power play with seven minutes remaining after Penguins defenseman Jack Johnson leveled Nino Niederreiter in the slot with a cross-check.
The Penguins also blocked shots on Sunday. They nullified 16 shots through two periods and dished 37 hits. Their final tally was 44 hits and 23 blocked shots.
Penguins goalie Matt Murray was tall in net. He stopped the first 18 shots he faced through two periods. Murray was stellar in the third period as the Penguins retreated to a defensive shell. Only Slavin’s shot escaped him as he stopped 36 of 37 shots. And the Penguins did not give up a goal against the extra attacker, which they did in their last meeting with Carolina on March 19.
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