In dire straits, Penguins stand their ground against Hurricanes
Evgeni Malkin scraps for the puck with Carolina's Jeff Skinner in the second period of the Penguins' 3-2 victory Saturday night in Raleigh, N.C.
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RALEIGH, N.C. -- It's possible that the situation could have been more dire for the Penguins.
It's just hard to imagine how.
They were trying to protect a 3-2 lead over Carolina with a little more than three minutes left when their best defensive center, Jordan Staal, left the game after being struck in the face with a puck.
That was bad.
It got worse when the Penguins were caught with too many men on the ice at 17:34.
And things deteriorated even more when one of their top penalty-killing forwards, Pascal Dupuis, was called for holding at 17:56.
That guaranteed the Hurricanes would have a two-man advantage for most of the time left in regulation.
Until 19:04, anyway. That's when another top penalty-killer, Matt Cooke, was sent off for kneeing.
Cooke's penalty assured that Carolina would be up two men for the rest of regulation.
And for part of overtime, if the game got that far.
Unless you want to deal in practical terms, in which case the manpower disadvantage was even more lopsided.
Carolina coach Kirk Muller already had replaced goalie Brian Boucher with an extra attacker by the time Cooke went off, which meant the Hurricanes were playing with a six-on-three advantage.
"I don't think I've seen anything quite like that," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "I don't remember, I don't want to remember and I don't want to have to remember."
Well, it might be awhile before Bylsma forgets what he witnessed, as the Penguins repeatedly gave up their bodies to block shots, and goalie Brent Johnson, making his first start since Nov. 19, found a way to stop everything that made it through to him.
"It was a firing range," Bylsma said. "It seemed like [shots] were coming from all over the place."
Surviving that late-game onslaught was enormously satisfying for the Penguins, and the medical reports they released after the game had to be fairly uplifting, too.
Bylsma said Staal, "just has a cut under the eye," although he will be checked for structural damage. Defenseman Deryk Engelland, who left the game in the third period, has an unspecified injury that Bylsma said will be evaluated in Pittsburgh.
Bylsma added that defensemen Kris Letang and Zbynek Michalek, both of whom are being monitored for possible concussions, have "done fine" on ImPACT tests.
Letang, who also is suffering from an illness and a broken nose, continues to have some symptoms, although their source has not been determined. Michalek was symptom-free Saturday.
Bylsma said Michalek appears to be "much farther down the road to recovery than Kris." That makes him the more likely of the two to dress when Boston visits Consol Energy Center Monday night, although it is far from certain either will be ready then.
As much as the Penguins could have used their injured defensemen -- to say nothing of Staal and the penalty killers who had been sent to the penalty box -- as time was winding down in the third period, they got exceptional efforts from Johnson and guys such as Cooke, Brooks Orpik, Craig Adams, Richard Park and, in the final 17.2 seconds, Sidney Crosby.
"Guys were going down to give up the body," Johnson said. "It was so nice to see."
That included some guys who aren't accustomed to being on the ice in such perilous situations.
"Some other guys obviously stepped up to the challenge who aren't used to killing penalties and did a good job," Orpik said.
One of those, Crosby, came on after what might have been the Hurricanes' best scoring chance during their extended multiple-man advantage.
After Johnson stopped a Jussi Jokinen shot from the inner edge of the left circle, the puck bounced off the left post and squirted through the crease, where Johnson laid on his back and covered it with his right arm.
Adams had given the Penguins a 1-0 lead off an exquisite feed from Crosby at 8:34 of the second, but Jamie McBain countered for Carolina at 18:41.
Arron Asham put the Penguins in front to stay at 8:33 of the third, and Dupuis added what proved to be the winner 87 seconds later.
McBain made it 3-2 at 12:29, however, and the officials' decision to disallow an apparent James Neal goal at 15:33 set the stage for the splendid chaos of the final two-plus minutes.
"I've never seen anything like that," Orpik said.
Few people had. But those who did Saturday night are likely to remember it for a long, long time.
First Published December 4, 2011 12:00 am