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Lottery-bound Hurricanes bury listless Penguins at Consol

| Tuesday, April 1, 2014, 9:52 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Hurricanes' Elias Lindholm beats Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury for a second-period goal Tuesday, April 1, 2014, at Consol Energy Center.

The Penguins already have had their players-only meeting.

What now?

After a 4-1 loss to the lottery-bound Carolina Hurricanes at Consol Energy Center on Tuesday night, defenseman Brooks Orpik said he is “not too worried” about an 8-8-2 slide since the NHL broke for the Winter Olympics.

Coach Dan Bylsma waited 14 seconds before addressing that topic when asked about it in his postgame media session.

“The word ‘worried,' ” Bylsma said, “I guess when you look at the last six games and the inconsistency of our play, I don't think any player looks at that and says we're all right with that.”

Orpik, the longest-tenured Penguin, was joined only by fellow veteran defenseman Rob Scuderi and captain Sidney Crosby inside a somber dressing room as reporters entered.

Actually, winger Brian Gibbons was there, too, but unlike the other veterans at their locker stalls, he was not a member of the Penguins squads that lost in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final and returned to win it the next season.

What is happening to the Penguins is not about Gibbons, one of four players who dressed against Carolina but who were not with the club to open the season.

It is not about the league-high 479 man-games lost to injury, players and coaches have insisted.

Those players and coaches also have said it is not about a lack of urgency since around New Year's Day. The Penguins (48-23-5, 101 points) need only one point from their final six games to wrap the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference's No. 2 playoff seed.

Whatever this rough patch is about seems to elude those who are part of it.

“That's one of those things about the grind — 82 games — making sure you prepare yourself mentally and make sure you're 100 percent ready,” Orpik said. “It doesn't matter what team you're playing, even if they're at the bottom of the standings. If you're not 100 percent, they can expose you and make you look pretty silly.

“That's what happened here (Tuesday night).”

The Penguins led 1-0 on winger Chris Kunitz's goal. Crosby's secondary assist gave him 100 points in a season for the fifth time.

However, Crosby's evening was more memorable for his pro wrestling-like slamming of Hurricanes defenseman Jay Harrison late in regulation, which seemingly was a first for Crosby in the NHL.

The Penguins once held a 13-1 lead in shots. That was about 12 minutes into the game.

The Hurricanes finished on a 27-18 run and rocked the Penguins for four consecutive goals.

“We kept it simple and kind of frustrated them,” said center Eric Staal, whose Hurricanes had lost in a shootout at Ottawa on Monday.

One of Carolina's goals against the Penguins — center Elias Lindholm's first of two markers in the second period — came on the power play. Nothing new for the Penguins, who were at 87.0 percent (23 for 177) on the penalty kill before the Olympics but are at 79.3 percent (46 of 58) since.

With two weeks before the start of the playoffs, the Penguins are trending like a bottom-five team on the penalty kill even though they officially are ranked fourth.

They were first overall once.

They also owned the East's best point total. They even had a shot at the NHL's best record.

A week ago, a players-only meeting was called after a listless home defeat against Phoenix. Teammates said Orpik spoke up about a lack of discipline.

No meeting happened Tuesday night, though Crosby said the Penguins “maybe thought … we could get away with cheating (work ethic).”

“And it didn't work,” Crosby said.

Not much has worked consistently, Bylsma conceded.

Everybody took two weekend wins — at Columbus and at home against defending champion Chicago — as signs of progress toward playoff-quality performance.

What now?

Bylsma, after another long pause, said those games were “indications of our team being in the right spot.”

“This game is not,” he said. “We're going on the road for three games, and two out of three isn't an indication we're in the right spot.”

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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