Penguins clinch division with 5-3 win against Carolina


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RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Penguins won a hockey game Tuesday night and, in the process, clinched the Atlantic Division championship.

That's a significant feat, and their first such title since 2008.

Good luck distinguishing the aftermath of their 5-3 victory against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena, which also locked up no worse than the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, from any of the 29 wins that preceded it.

There was no undue whooping, no sheets of plastic strung in front of lockers to protect their contents from the spray of carbonated liquids.

Yes, the Penguins were pleased with what they had achieved. Maybe even a bit satisfied.

But in keeping with hockey custom, they did not make a public display of it.

"If it was baseball, we'd be celebrating right now, champagne and stuff," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "A little different culture, I guess."

The lack of revelry aside, winning the Atlantic was one of the Penguins' regular-season priorities. Doing it with more than two weeks left in the regular season makes the achievement that much more impressive.

"It's been a priority for us to look at being the top team in the division," coach Dan Bylsma said. "To be able to do that with eight games left in the season, I think that's a pretty big accomplishment for this team."

The Penguins secured their title in fairly spectacular style, scoring twice in 13 seconds in the middle of the third period to take a lead they never surrendered.

Beau Bennett made it 3-3 at 9:49, when Carolina goalie Justin Peters stopped his backhander from close range, only to have the puck bounce off Hurricanes defenseman Jamie McBain and flutter into the net.

The goal, Bennett's third this season, hadn't even been announced to the crowd when Evgeni Malkin one-handed a Jarome Iginla rebound into the net at 10:02 to put the Penguins in front to stay.

Scoring two goals so quickly might not be too much to ask of the Penguins when their lineup is reasonably intact, but they were missing the likes of Sidney Crosby and James Neal, Kris Letang and Paul Martin.

Their absences hardly seemed to matter.

"There are big names out right now, but look at our lineup," said winger Pascal Dupuis, who contributed a goal and two assists. "There are big names that came in who are still playing."

One of those is Iginla, who praised what his new teammates have been able to accomplish, but stressed that the Penguins' objectives go well beyond a division title.

"You don't want to pat yourself too much on the back, as a group, but guys should feel good about it tonight," he said. "Then you just get back at it, keep going, because it's just a step."

That kind of tenacity served the Penguins well in the first and third periods as Carolina mounted strong surges in both.

The Hurricanes have lost six consecutive games and eight in a row at home -- a franchise record -- but were as fiercely competitive as they generally are when the Penguins visit.

"For whatever reason, no matter where they are in the standings, they always play us hard in this building," Orpik said.

Joe Corvo put Carolina on top, 1-0, at 4:06 of the opening period, but Robert Bortuzzo countered for the Penguins at 5:38. After Brenden Morrow made it 2-1 at 13:49 with his first goal since joining the Penguins, Bobby Sanguinetti pulled the Hurricanes even at 15:33.

That was the final goal by either team until two minutes into the third, when Riley Nash of Carolina backhanded a puck past Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to put the Hurricanes up, 3-2.

"We could have gone two different directions after they scored that early one," Orpik said.

The Penguins opted to continue battling, knowing that the Hurricanes had played in Boston 24 hours earlier and likely would deal with significant fatigue as the period progressed.

"We knew that if we could just keep playing the same way, stay physical, that hopefully they would tire out," Orpik said.

Whether that became a decisive factor is conjecture, but there are a couple of things that are stone-cold realities.

The Penguins scored two times in 13 seconds. And those goals, along with a late empty-netter by Dupuis, clinched their right to hang another banner at Consol Energy Center.

Not all the Penguins had been aware of that at the time -- "I didn't know we could do it tonight," Fleury said -- but they realize it now. The ones who listening closely to Bylsma's post-game talk, anyway.

"It was mentioned briefly after the game," Orpik said. "But not much."

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Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published April 10, 2013 4:00 AM


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