Final OT

Series (Game 3 of 4)

Carolina leads 3-1

Game 1: Wednesday, October 14th
Game 2: Monday, December 7th
Game 3: Thursday, March 11th
Game 4: Saturday, March 20th

Penguins 3

(40-22-5, 85 pts)

Hurricanes 4

(28-31-8, 64 pts)

7:00 PM ET, March 11, 2010

PNC Arena, Raleigh, North Carolina

1 2 3 OT T
PIT 2 1 0 03
CAR 2 1 0 14

J. Peters (Hurricanes - G): Saves: 37, Save Pct.: .925

B. Pothier (Hurricanes - D): Goals: 1, Assists: 1

E. Staal (Hurricanes - C): Goals: 1, Assists: 1

Penguins-Hurricanes Preview


The Pittsburgh Penguins had been playing inconsistent hockey since late December when the Olympic break rolled around, so they were hoping two weeks away would revitalize the team as it prepares to defend its Stanley Cup title.

A little time off seems to have done wonders.

The Penguins look for their fifth consecutive win when they open a five-game road trip Thursday night at the RBC Center, where the improving Carolina Hurricanes have little margin for error in their effort to make a late postseason push.

Pittsburgh (40-22-4) had gone 10-11-3 and was outscored 81-70 from Dec. 27-Feb. 14, never winning more than two consecutive games.

Despite those struggles, the Atlantic Division title was still very much up for grabs as the Penguins headed into the Olympic break just a point behind New Jersey.

Having two weeks to regroup -- and adding a pair of players at the trade deadline -- seems to have Pittsburgh headed in the right direction. Evgeni Malkin scored his second game-winning goal in four days Sunday, lifting the Penguins to a 2-1 victory over Boston and a 4-0 mark since the break.

Pittsburgh now has a three-point cushion on New Jersey in the Atlantic.

"We know we're doing well, so we need to keep doing it," said Sidney Crosby, who had two goals and four assists since securing Canada's gold medal with his overtime game-winner. "The games are getting tougher and our level of play has to be higher, and the last few games, it has been."

An injection of some additional talent has given the Penguins a boost. Defenseman Jordan Leopold, acquired from Florida, is plus-four in four games, while winger Alexei Ponikarovsky, who came over from Toronto, has a goal and an assist in two games.

The Russian-born Ponikarovsky has clicked with fellow countryman Malkin, who has struggled at times to find a rapport with some of his linemates.

"It has been a good line with a lot of Russian talk, which I like," said Malkin, who had six goals and three assists in the Penguins' four-game sweep of Carolina in the Eastern Conference finals. "Poni is a big guy who likes to skate. I like what I see of him. ... He's helping create a lot of traffic and a lot of scoring chances."

The Hurricanes (27-31-8) have spent much of the season with the league's worst record, but they're certainly doing all they can to make a late run at returning to the playoffs. Carolina entered Wednesday's game at Washington having won eight of nine since Feb. 5.

Despite taking the NHL's best team past regulation, the Hurricanes couldn't escape with two points. Tomas Fleischmann beat Manny Legace 3:20 into overtime to give the Capitals a 4-3 win.

Carolina is eight points behind Boston for the East's eighth seed.

"We're judging ourselves by our fight more than anything else," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. "We're trying to get as many points as we can, because we can't walk away now without any."

A big reason for the Hurricanes' resurgence has been the play of Jussi Jokinen, who has goals in three straight games and nine in his last 10. He leads the Hurricanes with a career-best 27.

Jokinen had a goal in Carolina's most recent meeting with the Penguins, a 3-2 win on Dec. 7 at Mellon Arena. Ray Whitney scored twice, but Crosby and Chris Kunitz tallied shootout goals to lift Pittsburgh to a 3-2 road win on Oct. 14.

Penguins forward Matt Cooke is expected to play Thursday after the NHL decided not to suspend him for Sunday's blindside hit that left Boston's Marc Savard with a grade 2 concussion.