A few things pretty much can be taken for granted when the Pittsburgh Penguins face Carolina.
The games will be tight.
They will be relatively low-scoring.
And the Hurricanes ultimately will win.
They’ve done it in all three meetings this season, and always by one goal, including a 4-3 overtime decision at PPG Paints Arena Thursday night.
“There’s a fine line between winning and losing,” Mike Sullivan said. “All of those games could have gone either way, and they didn’t go our way.”
Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin got the deciding goal in this one, tucking a shot past Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry 23 seconds into the extra period. Two of Carolina’s three victories in the season series have come in overtime, both at PPG Paints Arena.
The Penguins (19-9-5) are 1-3-3 in their past seven games against Carolina and trail the first-place Hurricanes by five points in the Metropolitan Division.
The Penguins seemed poised to claim a victory when Bryan Rust broke a 2-2 tie with a sensational individual effort at 12:55 of the third period.
He got the puck in his own end and carried it down the left side into the Carolina zone. As he approached the goal line, Rust got around Hurricanes left winger Jordan Martinook, then cut to the net and slid a shot past goalie Antti Raanta for his ninth of the season.
That had the potential to be a game-winner, but former Penguin Jordan Staal countered for Carolina at 15:31, when he muscled a wrap-around attempt off the stick of defenseman Brian Dumoulin and into the net to force overtime.
The first 16-plus minutes of play were the very essence of low-event hockey — Carolina didn’t even have a shot on Jarry for the first 9:55 — but there was a full period’s complement of developments in the final 3:11 before intermission.
It started when Carolina defenseman Jalen Chatfield was penalized for cross-checking Sidney Crosby at center ice.
Crosby responded by putting the Penguins in front, 1-0, at 17:28, as he rapped in a loose puck from the right side of the crease for his 19th of the season. Kris Letang and Jake Guentzel received assists on the goal, which gave the Penguins at least one man-advantage score in 10 consecutive games.
They didn’t get to enjoy the accomplishment for long, however, because Martin Necas pulled the Hurricanes even just 15 seconds later. He collected the carom of a Calvin de Haan shot off the back boards and threw a shot past Tristan Jarry from along the goal line to the right of the net.
If that goal stunned the Pittsburgh Penguins — and it certainly should have — imagine how they felt 17 seconds later, when Chatfield put a shot over Jarry’s glove from the right point for a 2-1 Hurricanes lead. The goal, Chatfield’s first in the NHL, stemmed from Jesperi Kotkaniemi cleanly winning a faceoff against Evgeni Malkin.
Carolina had an opportunity to pad its advantage when Drew O’Connor, making his first NHL appearance since Nov. 5, took a tripping minor in the offensive zone at 18:32 but failed to exploit that man-advantage.
The standout performers during the second period were referees Marc Joannette and Brandon Blandina, who assessed the Penguins and Hurricanes a total of eight penalties.
The Pittsburgh Penguins got the only goal scored during the resultant power plays, but they weren’t the ones with the extra man at the time.
Jason Zucker was serving an interference minor for bowling over Raanta at 17:25 when Carolina alum Brock McGinn threw a turning shot by Raanta from inside the left circle at 19:15. Teddy Blueger and Dumoulin assisted on the goal, McGinn’s 10th.
The Penguins will enter the NHL’s three-day holiday break tied with the New York Rangers for third place in the Metro. And while Sullivan praised his team for what it has accomplished so far, he clearly believes it is capable of more.
“I love this group,” Sullivan said. “They’re great people. They’re great players. We have a really good team. We’ve won a lot of games as of late, but our expectations are high. I think there’s another level to this group. We’re right in the mix right now, but there’s a lot of hockey left, and we’ve got to push to get to the next level.”