RALEIGH — Mathematically, the Carolina Hurricanes still have a chance of reaching the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The games are running short and the schedule is unrelenting. But the Canes still have plenty of fight, as the Pittsburgh Penguins learned Thursday.
A night after an overtime loss to the Washington Capitals, the Hurricanes went to overtime again against the defending Stanley Cup champions. But they weren't to be denied, with Justin Peters making 37 saves before defenseman Brian Pothier buried a shot 23 seconds into the OT for a 4-3 victory at the RBC Center.
"We played a really hard game in overtime last night, but we were able to hang in there and find a way in overtime," Pothier said.
Pothier took a pass from Ray Whitney, who had a goal and assist, in the right circle and smashed a shot past goaltender Brent Johnson.
"Whit is a special player, and he sees the ice better than most guys do," Pothier said. "He wasn't looking at me, but I had a feeling he saw me. He put it right under somebody's stick and through somebody's legs and right on my tape - it was a beautiful pass."
For the Hurricanes (28-31-8) it was a beautiful ending to what could have been a killer game. Carolina trailed 2-0 barely 51/2 minutes into the game. The Canes lost center Brandon Sutter to a leg injury late in the first.
But Peters, in his fifth start, made all the big stops. Whitney did his thing. Eric Staal scored a goal and assisted on Pothier's overtime winner.
Erik Cole, who missed the Caps game with an illness, moved up to the top line after Canes coach Paul Maurice did some shuffling following Sutter's injury and assisted on Staal's score. The back-end guys battled hard.
Zach Boychuk's second goal of the season also was big. The winger pounced on the puck after a faceoff in the Pens' zone and whipped a backhander from the slot past defenseman Brooks Orpik and Johnson to tie the score 2-2 in the first.
"We've got a ton of character guys, and they don't get discouraged," said Pothier, who came to the Canes last week in a trade with the Caps. "Down early, against a really good team, we fight and continue to battle."
Maurice said Sutter's injury didn't appear to be serious. The center got his right leg tangled up in the legs of the Pens' Kris Letang and tumbled into the boards.
The Penguins had not lost in their last eight games, were 4-0 since the Olympic break and had a night to rest while the Canes were on the road playing the Caps. By game's end, they had a 40-21 shooting edge, getting early goals from Jordan Staal and Bill Guerin, then a tying goal early in the second from Matt Cooke.
"They came in with the mindset of coming out real hard and [with] a physical game and a lot of quickness," Maurice said. "When we got through the first 10 minutes we were a little better and controlled the play for the better part, and our goaltender was real good."
Peters, named the game's first star, had to be good in the third. Evgeni Malkin blasted a few shots at the rookie, Pascal Dupuis was denied on a shot in front with 1:30 left, and then Malkin hit the post with less than a minute left in regulation.
Peters also got some help. Once, forward Tom Kostopoulos batted the puck out of the air with his hand after it bounced up and over Peters' head.
"We found a way to win a game," Maurice said. "It was a lot of scrapping, a lot of bounced pucks."
Whitney scored a power-play goal in the first, but the Canes couldn't manage a shot with 1:39 of a 5-on-3 late in the second with the score 3-3. Cole also was denied on a breakaway by Johnson with 13:35 left in the third.
"I don't think things were easy for us," Maurice said. "You could see the fatigue. Throughout the whole game, guys are coming to the bench slower."
But the Canes won their eighth straight at home. They kept Sidney Crosby and Malkin from scoring, although both had assists. They beat the Pens for the second time this season and are 2-0-1 this season against the champs.
"I think the team we played tonight has proven all year long they are not going to stop playing," Pens coach Dan Bylsma said. "They are going to work regardless of the standings or what the score is."
"We didn't quit," Peters said. "We got down early. The boys battled hard, and it was really a special way to end the game."
And keep hope alive.
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