Penguins best Canes in shootout

Skinner takes big hit, but later returns

calexander@newsobserver.comJanuary 18, 2012 

— It was the kind of play the Carolina Hurricanes surely feared. It was Jeff Skinner, down on the ice. It was Skinner taking a huge hit and being taken to the locker room.

Skinner got back up and played but the Hurricanes couldn't complete the feel-good story Tuesday as the Pittsburgh Penguins won 2-1 in a shootout on James Neal's goal.

Evgeni Malkin and Neal scored in the shootout against Cam Ward, and the Canes got a score from Jussi Jokinen but had Skinner and Eric Staal stopped by Marc-Andre Fleury.

Staal had a chance to end it for the Canes midway through the overtime, but was denied in front by Fleury. In the final seconds of the OT, defenseman Tim Gleason got his stick on a shot by Pascal Dupuis.

The Penguins outshot the Hurricanes 41-26 as Carolina fell to 0-4 in shootouts this season. Ward finished with 40 saves.

Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller praised the duel of the goaltenders.

"They put a lot of shots on net and (Ward) had to deal with a lot of traffic tonight and he had to be sharp," he said. "It was a low-scoring game, kind of a playoff-style game."

Skinner took a shoulder from Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik with 12 minutes, 57 seconds left in the third period, with the score tied at 1. Orpik was called for an interference penalty while Skinner had to be helped off the ice and to the locker room for observation - as is NHL protocol for players who may have suffered a head injury.

"I saw him coming," Skinner said of Orpik. "I thought I could chip (the puck) in and get by him. Then when I couldn't, I tried to get my hands up to protect myself as quick as possible. I just stayed down there (on the ice) to sort of collect my thoughts and not kind of rush getting back up.

"It was a pretty good hit. The D-man is supposed to step up and take the body or the puck and he did a good job taking the body."

Pens fans booed the penalty call. Canes fans no doubt recalled Orpik's dangerous hit from behind on Erik Cole in 2006 that ended with Cole suffering a broken neck.

Skinner, the Calder Trophy winner last season, was playing his second game since sitting out 16 games recovering from a concussion. That came after a clean but hard open-ice hit by Andy Sutton of the Edmonton Oilers in the Dec. 7 game in Edmonton.

But Skinner did return to the game. After taking the "quiet room" tests, he was cleared to play.

Skinner said he was evaluated by a doctor in the arena.

"He asked me some questions and went through some tests," Skinner said. "We took our time and I went back out there."

Muller said he had no second thoughts about putting Skinner back in the game.

"Obviously we love the fact we have him back and we don't want to lose him again," Muller said. "It's good that he came back in. He's a competitor. He was ready to go again.

"He was alert, he was fine. He was feisty when he came back and played hard. ... He came back with some fire."

The Penguins (24-17-4) had lost four straight on home ice and the Hurricanes (16-24-8) were intent on adding a fifth.

But the Pens still have Malkin. They have Neal. They have Fleury and one of the hardest-working teams in the NHL.

Defenseman Jamie McBain's early goal gave the Canes a 1-0 lead, but Malkin tied the score for the Penguins late in the first period. McBain scored his fourth goal of the season - and fourth career against the Pens - at 2:11 of the first.

Skinner also earned an assist on the goal, his first point since his return.

Malkin's goal, his 22nd of the season and seventh in the past six games, came with 1:22 to play in the first. Malkin swiped the puck from Eric Staal in the right circle, then wristed a quick top-shelf shot past Ward.

The Pens seemed to find some life after defenseman Deryk Engelland dropped the gloves and fought the Canes' Tim Gleason with a little more than six minutes left in the first period.

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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