New Castle News


December 28, 2011

NHL Hockey: Neal nets 21st, Penguins beat Hurricanes

PITTSBURGH — Dan Bylsma has been around the Pittsburgh Penguins long enough to recognize troubling games such as this one.

The Penguins coach felt uneasy as he saw that his club held a sizable advantage in shots, but was still tied with the Carolina Hurricanes through two periods. He knew the game could turn in one of two ways: the Penguins could have the game stolen by the hot goalie, or his club could finally figure out Justin Peters and skate off with a win.

The answer played out quickly in the third period.

Steve Sullivan, Pascal Dupuis and Jordan Staal all scored on Peters during the first 8:05 of the third, and the Penguins stretched their winning streak to four with a 4-2 victory over the Hurricanes on Tuesday night.

"Both those thoughts went through our brains," Bylsma said after Peters stopped 36 of Pittsburgh's first 37 shots. "The goalie was playing really well and looked really good ... but you want to keep playing on and want to keep putting pressure on their whole team, including their goalie. When you force it that way, you eventually feel like you're going to break a team and get to their goalie, which we were able to do."

James Neal scored his 21st goal, one behind the NHL leaders. He has scored in every game of the Penguins' winning streak and has 14 goals in 16 home games.

Evgeni Malkin had two assists to move into second place in the NHL scoring race. He and Neal both extended point streaks to eight games.

Pittsburgh outshot Carolina 52-18, giving Peters a difficult test in his season debut. Peters finished with 48 saves.

"We had a lot of Grade-A chances. A few you'd like to have back, but he made some great saves and played really well," Neal said. "If you're putting pucks on the net and controlling the offensive zone like that, you're going to get your bounces. We just wanted to stick with it, and we did that."

It began paying off 1:18 into the third when Sullivan gave Pittsburgh its first lead. Dupuis scored 70 seconds later for the Penguins, 5-3 since captain Sidney Crosby's latest concussion absence. Staal added a goal against his older brother Eric's team.

Tim Brent and Tuomo Ruutu scored for the Hurricanes, who had won consecutive games for only the third time this season before coming to Pittsburgh.

Cam Ward, who made 23 saves and was credited with an empty-net goal on Monday in a 4-2 home win against New Jersey, was given the night off. Peters got the starting nod because main backup Brian Boucher has been out since Dec. 3 with an undisclosed lower body injury.

Peters stopped all 16 shots he faced in the first period and 20 of 21 in the second. The Penguins didn't score on any of their first 27 shots, but their first goal was scored by Neal, who didn't shoot the puck.

Chris Kunitz took two shots, and the second attempt from Peters' left got through the goalie but spun parallel to the goal line in the blue paint. Carolina defenseman Bryan Allen tried to clear the puck out of danger, but whiffed. That sent the puck off the shaft of Neal's stick, then off Allen's backside before trickling into the net.

"Something is going to happen if you get 50 shots in one game," Staal said. "We knew if we worked hard and kept getting shots that something was going to go in."

Pittsburgh scored on its 38th shot when Sullivan one-timed a feed from Malkin while on a power play for his seventh. Dupuis' 11th followed soon after, and Staal netted his 14th with 11:55 to play to make it 4-1.

"The first two periods they had a lot of shots and stuff, but I think they were coming from outside mostly," Ruutu said. "Our goalie played well, but we were maybe going at 90 percent. You have to have that at 100 percent, especially when you are playing on the road and against a team like Pittsburgh."

Brent's fourth of the season and third point in two games opened the scoring in the first. With 5:07 left, Ruutu scored for the fourth consecutive game, extending his point streak to six games.

"We wanted more shots," Hurricanes captain Eric Staal said. "But I thought they were firing it from pretty much everywhere, all over the ice and a lot from the outside. I don't think we were totally getting killed every time we were on the ice, but obviously we wanted to generate a little bit more offensively, and we didn't."

NOTES: Bylsma earned his 135th win as coach of the Penguins, tying Michel Therrien for second behind Eddie Johnston on the franchise list. ... The game was the 400th for Jordan Staal. At 23 years, 108 days, he is the seventh-youngest player to reach that milestone since 1967. ... Neal had 22 goals last season, including just one in 20 games with the Penguins after a February trade from Dallas. ... Carolina earned at least one point in five of six previous games to climb out of last place in the Eastern Conference. ... Malkin has six goals and 12 assists during his streak. He passed Jean Pronovost for ninth place on the Penguins' assist list with 287. ... Neal is the only NHL player this season with two scoring streaks of at least seven games. ... Penguins C Tyler Kennedy had two assists to give him five points in four games.

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