"When those guys are out of the lineup, it becomes more of a scoring by committee," said Jeffrey, called up from the minors this week to replace Malkin. "I think all of our forwards have to step up. We didn't do a very good job [in a 2-0 loss Thursday] in Jersey. As a group, we played a lot better tonight."
The Penguins limited Carolina's chances until Sergei Samsonov and Eric Staal scored over the final 4:25. That made things interesting and incited memories of two blown late two-goal leads this season at new Consol Energy Center.
Twelve days earlier, Boston scored four times in the final 3:23, turning a 2-0 Penguins' lead into a home loss. Two months to the day before that, the Bruins won 7-4 despite entering the third down 4-2.
"It was a little frustrating when it's 3-0 and then such a short time later it's 3-2," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "It happened so quick, but we held on at the end and held them off."
No NHL team has more elite depth at center than Pittsburgh, but Crosby missed his eighth consecutive game due to a concussion. Malkin has sat out two because of a sore left knee and a sinus infection.
That left Jordan Staal as the Penguins' No. 1 center. Eric's younger brother didn't score, but he had an assist and was the only player on his team to be a plus-2 in 20:30 of ice time -- tops among Pittsburgh forwards.
Staal was on the ice during most of the final frantic minutes, directed to shut down his brother's line as Carolina pressed for the equalizer.
"Given that we've had that situation in the past of letting teams back in and giving up leads late, with [Jordan] Staal's defending ability down low against guys like [Eric] Staal, there's some comfort there," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Pittsburgh has won four of five and is 4-3-1 without Crosby. The Hurricanes have lost three of four and four of six.
Samsonov ended Fleury's bid for his second shutout of the season with 4:25 to play. It was his first goal in 10 games and ninth of the season.
Eric Staal then made the Penguins' 191st consecutive sellout crowd nervous when he cut Carolina's deficit to 3-2 with 58 seconds left. Staal scored a power-play goal, putting in the rebound of Joe Corvo's shot.
Six of the Hurricanes' 26 shots were recorded over the final five minutes.
"Too little, too late," Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward said. "You need that for the whole entire game."
Pressed into much more significant roles without Crosby and Malkin, centers Letestu and Jeffrey scored the Penguins' first two goals.
Jeffrey's came after 37:14 of scoreless hockey. It was his second goal in six games this season and third in 20 career contests.
"You knew that whoever was going to score first was probably going to get an upper hand," Samsonov said.
Just 72 seconds earlier, Carolina thought they had done that. Officials initially ruled Erik Cole's shot from the right circle was a goal, but a video review quickly confirmed that the puck hit the crossbar after deflecting off the end of Fleury's stick.
Letestu scored his 10th goal 2:22 into the second period on a shot while he was wide open in the slot. Letestu took a pretty feed from Chris Kunitz to finish the play.
It was the Penguins' first power-play goal in four games, since they scored four in a 5-2 win at Montreal on Jan. 12. Pittsburgh had only one power-play chance in each of the previous three games.
Dupuis made it 3-0 with 12:32 left, scoring his 10th of the season and second while the Penguins were short-handed. Dupuis flipped a backhander past Ward off a nice pass from Jordan Staal seconds after Fleury twice denied Staal's brother, Eric, who was alone in the slot.
"They were missing two key guys, but they played a gritty, hard-fought game," Eric Staal said. "They were backchecking real hard, creating pressure, making it difficult for us.
"We didn't generate as much as we wanted to."
Many fans brought Terrible Towels to the game on the eve of the Pittsburgh Steelers hosting the New York Jets in the AFC championship game. When Fleury was announced as the No. 1 star, he came out with a towel in hand and put on a Steelers helmet. ... The Penguins improved to 11-2 against Southeast Division teams. ... The Carolina franchise has 999 wins.