Hurricanes clip Penguins in overtime
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Each week, seemingly, a new NHL club becomes the team nobody wants to face in the playoffs .
Either the Penguins or the Carolina Hurricanes could be considered that team, and they may get a best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoff series to determine who is most capable of a long postseason run.
Neither club did much to discredit their Cup contender credentials Saturday at RBC Center.
The Penguins moved closer to a playoff spot by earning a point in a 3-2 overtime loss at Carolina.
Hurricanes defenseman Anton Babchuk scored his 14th goal at 1:11 in overtime to clinch a playoff spot for Carolina (44-28-7, 95 points).
The Penguins (42-27-9, 93 points) can clinch a playoff spot by winning today at ninth-place Florida (38-29-11, 87 points).
They also remain in the mix for a fourth-place finish in the Eastern Conference, which would give them home-ice advantage in the opening playoff round.
Carolina, Philadelphia (42-25-10, 94 points) and Montreal (40-27-10, 90 points) are also in that mix for the No. 4 seed. The Flyers and Canadiens each played last night.
Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said his club is in that group because goalie Cam Ward has performed at a high level the past few months. In 25 straight starts before last night, Ward went 17-6-2 with a 2.29 goals-against average and .924 save percentage.
Ward stopped 33 shots last night, including a clean first-period breakaway by Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and a third-period penalty shot from NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin.
A goal by Crosby, whose wrist shot caught Ward near his right shoulder, would have given the Penguins a 2-0 lead. Right wing Tyler Kennedy's backhand-roof shot beat Ward at 5:49 to put the Penguins up, 1-0.
Carolina pulled even, 1-1, on center Eric Staal's goal at 13:25 of the first period. Staal's 36th goal was his 10th in 19 career games against the Penguins.
The only goal in an intense second period, marked by heavy hitting from both teams, was scored by Carolina center Chad LaRose. His 19th tally 57 seconds into the period gave the Hurricanes a 2-1 lead, which they carried into the third.
Crosby appeared to have tied the score midway through the second. He deflected a puck past Ward after Penguins right wing Bill Guerin sent a shot toward the cage. However, left wing Chris Kunitz was called for tripping away from the play at 9:53, which negated Crosby's goal.
The Penguins' Staal, 20-year-old Jordan, netted his 22nd at 3:34 of the third period to pull his club even, 2-2.
Malkin drew a penalty shot with 8:17 remaining in regulation when his breakaway was cut short by Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason's dive from behind. Gleason's stick tripped Malkin and impeded his shot attempt.
Ward caught Malkin's wrist shot with his pads.
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made 27 saves.