Hurricanes edge Penguins, clinch playoff berth

RALEIGH, North Carolina (AP) — Cam Ward lived every goalie’s
worst nightmare — twice: He had both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni
Malkin charging hard at him on breakaways.

“You try to put yourself in the best position, and make yourself
look big,” Ward said. “And, hopefully, he hits you.”

He stopped both Pittsburgh stars to help the Carolina Hurricanes
advance to the playoffs for the first time in three years.

Ward stopped 33 shots and matched a club record with his 38th
victory of the season, and Carolina beat the Pittsburgh Penguins
3-2 in overtime Saturday night to wrap up its first postseason
trip since 2006.

Anton Babchuk won it at 1:11 of the extra session when the
hard-shooting defenseman took a feed from Tim Gleason behind the
right circle and unloaded a hard blast that beat Marc-Andre
Fleury. His third winner in an eight-game span helped the
Hurricanes extend their franchise-record home winning streak to

“I just tried to shoot through the Pittsburgh (defenseman’s)
stick … and through the guys in front of the net,” Babchuk
said. “And it just went in.”

Their eight-game overall winning streak is their longest since
they won nine in a row during 2005-06 — when they made their
most recent playoff appearance and went on to win their first
Stanley Cup.

Chad LaRose and Eric Staal both scored for the second straight
game, and Ray Whitney added two assists for the Hurricanes,
whose biggest concern now is keeping themselves in the mix for
home-ice advantage in the first round. They have 95 points with
three games remaining while Philadelphia, which lost in a
shootout to Ottawa, also is at 95 points with four games to

“I’m excited to know that we’re going to have that chance” to
return to the playoffs, Ward said. “This is where the work just
begins. We’ve worked extremely hard to get ourselves in this
position, and I’m excited for everybody, but we need to bear
down in these last three games. I can’t express that enough.”

Tyler Kennedy had a goal and an assist for the Penguins, and
Jordan Staal scored with 16 minutes left to make it 2-all.
Fleury finished with 27 saves for the Penguins, who were denied
a 12th come-from-behind victory.

The defending Eastern Conference champs picked up points for the
16th time in 17 games, but remained in sixth with 93 points and
still have some work to do during their three-game road swing
through the Southeast to clinch another playoff berth.

But after this intense meeting of two of the East’s hottest
teams — Pittsburgh went 13-1-2 in its previous 16 games to
vault from 10th place into the mix for home-ice advantage in the
first round — it isn’t much of a stretch to think they could
meet again at some point in the coming weeks.

READ ALSO:  Canadiens continue regular season domination of Flyers with 5-3 win

“We’re playing well, and it’s not fun to lose, but I think if we
realize we play that way every game, we’re going to see some
more pucks go in,” Crosby said. “We’re going to be tough to

So is Ward. Making his career-best 26th start in goal for
Hurricanes, he improved to 18-6-2 in that stretch by making all
the big saves — most notably, stopping the Penguins’ two
biggest stars on breakaways.

“The thought process is, not thinking at all,” Ward said. “I
find that’s when I get in trouble — when I’m trying to guess
where the guy’s going to shoot. You look at those two
breakaways, it was just a read-and-react kind of situation.”

With Joe Corvo and Gleason shadowing him all night, Crosby’s
12-game points streak ended. He had a clear breakaway on Ward
midway through the first before the Carolina goalie made a
momentum-shifting save with his right shoulder, one of several
opportunities missed by the Penguins.

“I had a lot of space, and I didn’t realize I had that much
time,” Crosby said. “The puck settled down pretty late for me.
He stood his ground. He didn’t make any moves. He was steady
there. I just didn’t get the puck up. It happens.”

Malkin was awarded a penalty shot with 8:17 left in regulation
after Gleason tripped him from behind on a breakaway. Ward
stuffed him, too, turning aside a wrist shot with his pads to
leave the NHL’s scoring leader scoreless in three career penalty

Which one was tougher?

“I don’t really care … all of them are huge,” Ward said with a

And, a tying goal that appeared to click off Crosby and past
Ward midway through the second was wiped out because it occurred
an instant after Chris Kunitz was called for tripping Tuomo

“There are going to be calls that go against you,” Penguins
interim coach Dan Bylsma said. “There are going to be goals that
go against you. You’re going to get behind in games. But when
you can stay in the game plan and play a certain way and stick
to it, you give your team a chance to get back in games.”

The Penguins’ potent offense peppered Ward early and often
during a fast-paced first, but got only one goal out of it —
Kennedy’s 14th, which came about 6 minutes in. He put Pittsburgh
up 1-0 by outworking the Hurricanes for a puck in the corner,
skating along the goal line and lifting the puck past Ward.

“I think we would have liked to have buried some of our chances,
but I think, pretty often, when you play like that, you’re going
to see some good results,” Crosby said. “Unfortunately, we ran
into a hot goalie tonight.”