Penguins left winger Chris Kunitz celebrates his goal with teammates in the first period.
Center Elias Lindholm celebrates his goal in the second period against the Penguins.
Sidney Crosby assists on a goal against the Hurricanes at the Consol Energy Center.
Center Brian Gibbons shoots the puck wide of the net on a penalty shot against Carolina goalie Anton Khudobin in the first period Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center.
By Shelly Anderson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Penguins had quite a checklist of moments and milestones within reach going into their game Tuesday night.
They missed on most.
They failed to clinch the Metropolitan Division title when they could not follow through on a strong start and fell, 4-1, against the Carolina Hurricanes at Consol Energy Center.
The Penguins also missed a chance to make coach Dan Bylsma the fastest NHL coach to 250 wins. He stands at 249-116-30. And they missed a chance to pick up their 100th win at Consol Energy Center. They stand at 99-38-6.
One milestone that was crossed off the list was center Sidney Crosby, who leads the NHL in scoring, reaching 100 points for the fifth time in his career and first time since 2009-10. Crosby assisted on Chris Kunitz's first-period goal that gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead.
At that point and for a bit after, the Penguins were in control and ran up a 13-2 edge in shots.
"We all felt like the first 10 [minutes] we were carrying the play," Crosby said. "I think the shots were pretty evident of that. For whatever reason, we got away from that. Maybe we thought that came easy or thought we could get away with cheating. It didn't work."
Justin Faulk's tying goal at 14:39 of the first period came after a turnover by Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen. It gave Carolina a spark, and triggered an unwanted tone for the Penguins.
"From there, momentum kind of shifted our direction," Hurricanes center Eric Staal said. "We kept it simple and slowly frustrated them as game went on."
The Penguins figured their level of blame topped the credit Carolina deserved.
"The goal didn't change it; we started mismanaging the puck and having turnovers in the neutral zone," Bylsma said, describing the way his club succumbed to pressure by Carolina's defense.
"That's what it was."
It continued through the second period, and the Penguins found themselves trailing, 3-1, and in shots, 23-20, going into the third period.
Crosby was left to ponder why there was such a momentum shift.
"I thought that there was not really any reason to change the way we were playing, but they play aggressively and we seemed to kind of play into their hands a bit," he said. "We turned pucks over, and when they're aggressive like they are, they have numbers coming the other way.
"We played a dangerous game, and that ended up hurting us."
The Penguins are 8-8-2 since the Olympic break with six games left before the playoffs. They had been feeling better about themselves after wins against Columbus and Chicago that put some distance between them and a three-game losing streak.
Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik is not anxious about a possible slide this late in the regular season.
"No, I'm not too worried," he said. "We've just got to approach these last six games the right way, and I think we'll be fine."
Their approach against Carolina was fine while it lasted. The Penguins were attempting to sweep their four-game season series against the Hurricanes, and, for a while, it looked like it might be a breeze.
Penguins winger Brian Gibbons blocked a pass by Carolina's Ron Hainsey and took off on a breakaway. Hainsey backtracked and hooked Gibbons in the gloves.
Gibbons was awarded a penalty shot at 2:26 of the first period. "I went to shoot it, and he took my hands [out of the play], so I think it was the right call," Gibbons said.
On the penalty shot, Hurricanes goaltender Anton Khudobin got his stick on Gibbons' shot, and it remained scoreless.
Khudobin held the Penguins in check until 9:01 of the first period, when Kunitz scored on the Penguins' ninth shot for a 1-0 lead. His quick-release shot from the left dot glanced in off the stick of Hainsey for his 35th goal.
That left the shots 9-1 in favor of the Penguins.
Crosby got his league-leading 100th point with the secondary assist.
"It's nice when you have an opportunity to do it, but it's a lot better when you win," he said.
Carolina tied it, 1-1, at 14:39 of the first period when Faulk's shot from the right point handcuffed Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury,
The Hurricanes took a 2-1 lead at 9:24 of the second period on a power-play goal by Elias Lindholm.
Jeff Skinner flipped the puck to Lindholm from behind the net, and Lindholm beat Fleury on a shot that went between the skates of the Penguin defenseman Olli Maatta.
By the time the Hurricanes took a 3-1 lead at 14:57 of the second period, they led in shots, 20-17. Lindholm got his second goal on a shot from the left dot after the Penguins' Deryk Engelland turned the puck over.
Carolina increased its lead to 4-1 at 11:47 of the third period when Staal deflected a shot by Andrei Loktionov and sent it knuckling past Fleury.
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