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Neal's OT goal gives Pens win in Carolina

| Friday, Dec. 27, 2013, 9:48 p.m.

RALEIGH, N.C. — The hockey gods finally smiled on the Penguins.

After weeks of dealing with endless injuries, which continued with Friday's news that Pascal Dupuis is likely out for the season, the Penguins defeated the Hurricanes, 4-3, in a game they had no business winning.

James Neal scored the winner 1:03 into overtime, the highlight of a game that saw the Penguins cough up turnovers left and right.

“I think it's in the coach's manual that you try not to look too hard at the game after Christmas break,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.

Left wing Tanner Glass and defenseman Brooks Orpik made their respective returns to the lineup after injuries.

Glass explained what the Penguins felt during most of the game.

“When you've been sitting around eating turkey for three days, the game moves a little faster than what you had remembered,” he said.

Through countless turnovers and sloppiness — and even some late adversity — the Penguins might have found resolve that hasn't always been evident in past seasons.

Neal, who received a pretty feed from center Jussi Jokinen before burying a rocket past summer training partner Justin Peters, suggested the Penguins' determination was greater on this night than their mental lapses.

The Penguins could have folded during their dismal first period — they were guilty of at least six turnovers in their own territory during the opening 20 minutes — and most certainly could have folded after Drayson Bowman tied the game with just 2:29 remaining.

Instead, they roared back.

“It was a game where we never really played where we wanted to play,” Neal said.

“The puck was bouncing a lot, and we turned it over a lot. I think this shows how this team has matured and changed. We regrouped. We didn't let it bother us. We came right back. I like the way we responded.”

The first period marked the low point for the Penguins. Neal attributed it to a combination of rust from the three days off during the Christmas break and bad decision-making.

Sidney Crosby, Neal, and Olli Maatta each were guilty of possibly disastrous turnovers in their own zone. Marc-Andre Fleury bailed them out on each occasion.

The goaltender earned the victory in his 500th game. Fleury received a large welt on his throat from a shot in overtime but told the referee that stopping action wasn't necessary.

It's a good thing — Neal scored the game-winner seconds later.

“It was nice seeing Nealer end it,” said Fleury, who struggled to get home from Montreal during the Christmas break because of flight delays. “I wish I wouldn't have given up that third goal, but it's OK. We'll take it.”

Bylsma was delighted with his goaltender's work.

Even though Fleury allowed the game-tying goal in the final minutes, he was strong throughout and stopped 31 of 34 shots.

“Marc was our best player tonight,” Bylsma said. “We left him with tough scoring chances. He made the big saves. With our puck management, we gave them a lot of opportunities.

“They probably out-chanced us eight or nine to one or two in the first period. Luckily we were able to get back in the thing.”

Crosby, Chris Conner and Deryk Engelland scored for the Penguins, who maintained their 13-point lead over the Washington Capitals in the Metropolitan Division.

The Penguins vowed to play crisper hockey starting Sunday in Columbus.

But they'll take the two points in Carolina. They are 3-0 against their new division rival this season.

“There were decisions we could have made better and could have executed better,” Neal said. “We'll clean that up tomorrow and get back at it in Columbus.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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