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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

11.

"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

play.

"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.

"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

beat."

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

shots.

Which one was tougher?

"I don't really care ... all of them are huge," Ward said with a

laugh.

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

Ruutu.

"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."

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