When things were most tense, Carolina had twice as many skaters on the ice as Pittsburgh did. To Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, it seemed as if it were even more.
”The 8-on-3,” he quipped, ”was pretty gutsy.”
Backup goalie Brent Johnson came up big during the defensive stand that thwarted Carolina’s three-man advantage and helped the surging Penguins beat the slumping Hurricanes 3-2 on Saturday night.
”You don’t see 6-on-3s that often,” Johnson said. ”Just an excellent effort from our guys.”
Arron Asham and Pascal Dupuis scored 1:27 apart in the third period, Craig Adams had a goal and an assist, and Sidney Crosby added an assist for the Penguins. They’ve won five of seven games since Crosby’s return, and he has two goals and 10 assists in that span.
Johnson finished with 30 stops to win a battle of the backups against Brian Boucher. He stopped five shots during the final 2:04, when a series of Pittsburgh penalties gave Carolina a 5-on-3 advantage. The Hurricanes pulled Boucher and peppered him relentlessly in what Adams called ”a shooting gallery.”
Cracked Bylsma: ”We were going to be short for another 24 hours.”
Johnson’s most impressive save came when Jussi Jokinen’s shot off the post trickled past him before he covered it with his right shoulder with 17.2 seconds left.
”Good teams are going to block shots and they’re going to shut down the middle of the ice,” Carolina center Jeff Skinner said. ”We got some good looks. We got some good shots there at the end, but their goalie made some good saves (including) the one on the goal line behind him. You want to score on those. Just, tonight, we didn’t get it done.”
Asham broke a 1-all tie when his hard shot from between the circles beat Boucher with 11:27 left. Dupuis followed by hammering in a rebound to make it 3-1 with 10 minutes left.
Jamie McBain scored two goals and Boucher had 37 saves for the Hurricanes. McBain pulled them within a goal with 7:31 left when he scored a rare power-play goal — just the second for Carolina in six games.
But when the Hurricanes couldn’t score with what amounted to a 6-on-3 advantage after Boucher was pulled, Pittsburgh claimed a matchup of teams at opposite ends of the Eastern Conference standings. The Penguins top the NHL with 36 points, while the Hurricanes entered one point out of last place and have lost six straight and 13 of 16.
”It’s very frustrating,” Jokinen said. ”You can’t deny that. It’s been really tough, but there’s nothing you can do. You can’t change the past. You have to just watch the future. It’s never too late to turn (around) the season. Just keep believing and keep your heads up and try to get that first win on Tuesday and try to go from there.”
It wrapped up a rough first week on the job for Kirk Muller, who was hired Monday to replace the fired Paul Maurice. The 19-year NHL veteran as a player wound up taking on two first-place teams in his first five days as Carolina’s coach, losing to Southeast leader Florida on Nov. 29.
”That’s a pretty good team over there. A couple posts, a couple pucks on the goal line and the game turns out differently,” Skinner said. ”We just didn’t get the win. That’s the way it’s been going around here. We’ve got to try and get those positive things.”
Playing for the first time since Nov. 19, Johnson was impenetrable early on, breaking up a pretty backdoor pass from Bryan Allen to Jokinen and then stuffing Chad LaRose after a perfect cross-ice pass midway through the first.
He also caught a break late in the second when Skinner had a wide-open net but couldn’t get control of a bouncing puck before Brooks Orpik and Johnson shut the door on him.
Adams put Pittsburgh up 1-0 midway through the second when he took a pretty backhand pass from Crosby at the end line and beat Boucher for his third goal. McBain tied it with 1:19 before the break on a delayed penalty, taking a cross-ice pass from Joni Pitkanen and blasting the puck past Johnson.
NOTES: Pittsburgh C Jordan Staal had his face bloodied by Tomas Kaberle’s pass with about 3 minutes left. Bylsma said he had a cut under his eye but ”I’m sure they’ll be looking at making sure he’s fine and structural-wise.”… Johnson played in his 300th career game. … McBain sat out the last two games as a healthy scratch. … Since the Hurricanes beat Pittsburgh 5-3 on Nov. 12, they’ve only won twice since.