Carolina Hurricanes' Jordan Staal chases Evgeni Malkin during the second period.
Carolina Hurricanes' Jeff Skinner controls the puck as Penguins' Nick Bonino defends during the second period Tuesday.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
RALEIGH, N.C. — Jeff Skinner of Carolina won the game Tuesday night with a power-play goal at 3:02 of overtime.
That’s not when many of the Penguins figure they lost it.
A number pointed to their sluggish performance in the first period of the Hurricanes’ 3-2 victory at PNC Arena, which they escaped without surrendering a goal only because Carolina was equally uninspired.
“We have to worry about our starts, the way we come out,” left winger Chris Kunitz said. “Be prepared to execute and compete in the first half of the first period.”
The loss dropped the Penguins record to 20-16-6 and leaves them outside the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference.
They salvaged a point by rallying from a 2-0 deficit, forcing overtime when Kunitz converted a Sidney Crosby set-up at 6:02 of the third period.
Carolina, meanwhile, climbed to within one point of the Penguins, as the Hurricanes continue to scramble into playoff contention.
“I’m glad we’re in the mix,” Carolina center Jordan Staal said. “And, hopefully, we can get on top of it.”
Although coach Mike Sullivan clearly wasn’t pleased with the Penguins work early in the game, he doesn’t believe those first 20 minutes cost them an opportunity to win.
“It wasn’t a great period, as far as momentum was concerned, but we certainly didn’t give up anything,” he said. “It wasn’t like we got totally outplayed.
“Obviously, we would have liked to have come out with more energy and grabbed momentum right off the bat.”
Skinner ended the game just 22 seconds after Evgeni Malkin was penalized for hooking Staal deep in the offensive zone.
“You don’t want to take a penalty at all,” Sullivan said. “But, especially, when it’s that far from [your] net.”
The Penguins had killed 27 consecutive power plays before the one on which Skinner scored, but playing three-on-four is far more challenging that the conventional four-on-five short-handed situation. The team with the extra man has more room, and usually time, to move and pass and shoot, which tends to increase the chances of a goal.
In this instance, Skinner was alone at the right side of the crease and converted a cross-ice feed from Elias Lindholm.
Defenseman Olli Maatta made a lunging attempt to break up Lindholm’s pass, but Lindholm allowed him to slide by before feeding the puck to Skinner.
“I don’t think I played it well,” Maatta said.
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury had virtually no chance to stop Skinner, but his odds were far better than they had been on Carolina’s second goal.
Kris Versteeg was credited with that one after Crosby blocked his shot from the left side, sending the puck wide of the net. It caromed off the backboards and tumbled through the air before striking Fleury in the back and dropping over the goal line.
“I couldn’t find it, so I tried to back up in my net,” Fleury said. “It was stupid, but sometimes stuff like that happens.”
Kris Letang countered for the Penguins just 45 seconds after Versteeg’s goal and, after Kunitz pulled them even in the third period, they pushed for the goal that could have won it.
They never got it, and, when the game was over, a theme that has recurred throughout the season was again heard in their locker room.
“Putting ourselves in a hole, that’s what we have to worry about,” Maatta said. “We didn’t have the compete in the first period.
“We know we have everything we need to win games. We just have to play a full 60 minutes.”
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@post-gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.
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