Penguins, 'Canes clawing to stay in contention
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes might well have their claws out when they meet Tuesday night at PPG Paints Arena -- not so much with the intention of playing a nasty game but rather to try to climb over the other's back in the tight Metropolitan Division.
Pittsburgh (25-21-3) and Carolina (21-18-8) sit just below the wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference. With a win, the Hurricanes would pull within a point of the Penguins, with two games in hand.
Carolina has won both previous meetings this season.
"They're a solid, young team, especially when they have the lead," Pittsburgh defenseman Brian Dumoulin said. "They lock things down and they make it tough for us to play through the neutral zone. They're a team that dumps a lot of pucks and gets a lot of pucks deep. There's not a lot of room out there. They're definitely a tough opponent."
When the Hurricanes won 4-0 on Jan. 4 in Pittsburgh in dominating fashion, it seemed to be a new low point in an inconsistent season for the Penguins. They used the slap in the face to go on a four-game winning streak. They are 5-2 since that night.
"You've got to give yourself a chance to win games," said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who enters the game one goal shy of 400 for his career. "We need that consistency. We've had it for the most part (since that loss), and we need to build on it.
"Our urgency has probably picked up a lot. That's probably the biggest difference."
Tuesday's rematch is a chance for Pittsburgh to do a 180 from that loss.
"Sure it is," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "It's a team that we have not found a way to have success (against) yet this year.
"We certainly have got to make sure that we bring a certainly level of urgency to our game. Carolina's a good team. They've got a lot of team speed. They have a lot of skill. They have a mobile defense corps. So they present a lot of challenges for us. But I know that when we play the game a certain way, we can compete with anybody."
For the Hurricanes, the Jan. 4 win at Pittsburgh didn't exactly spark a big roll. They are 2-5 since, including a 5-1 loss Sunday against Vegas at home.
"We need some better play out of some guys," Carolina coach Bill Peters said. "Some guys might be a little bit too comfortable, there's no question about that.
"Frustration is a good word, an accurate word, for our team right now, but it's something that we've got to overcome. Winning consistently hurts. It hurts. There is a price to be paid. There is a physical price you have to pay to win."
Even against a team they haven't lost to this season.
"We've played well against Pittsburgh this year ... but, you know, they're playing well and we can't just go in there thinking because we've played well before that it's going to happen again," defenseman Justin Faulk said. "We've got to come in ready to work and compete. They're playing good hockey, and they're going to want those points, too. It's a grind in the standings within the division."
After being a healthy scratch for two games, Penguins winger Daniel Sprong was sent down to the AHL on Monday. Reports indicate the reason is winger Bryan Rust (upper-body injury), who has been out since Dec. 27, is nearing a return and could play Tuesday.
Updated January 22, 2018