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Pens bow to Hurricanes 4-1

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Erik Cole, playing his 600th game in the NHL, netted a goal and an assist to lead the Carolina Hurricanes to a 4-1 win over the Penguins in Raleigh on Friday. Pascal Dupuis scored for the Pens.

Hurricanes 4 - Penguins 1
RBC Center, Raleigh, NC

Alex Kovalev's superb passing during his first game with Pittsburgh since 2003 rekindled fond memories and the Pens outshot Carolina 34-21, but the Hurricanes nonetheless blew out the Pens 4-1 Friday night at the RBC Center. While the injury-ravaged Pens (36-21-6) peppered Cam Ward all night, Pascal Dupuis was the only player to poke one past Carolina's (29-24-9) goalie. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, chased Marc Andre-Fleury in the second period after Jay Harrison, Joe Corvo and Erik Cole gave the team a commanding lead, and Jussi Jokinen added another goal against Brent Johnson. With the loss, the Pens fell to 2-6-2 in their past 10 games, a sordid stretch during which the club has averaged 1.7 goals per game.

First Period

Already missing a M*A*S*H unit's worth of players, the Pens healthy enough to take the ice proceeded to shoot themselves in the foot in the first period. Carolina defenseman Jay Harrison netted just his third goal of the season 1:44 into the game, getting a wrister past Marc-Andre Fleury, who ventured far in front of the goal. Mike Rupp crunched Calder Trophy candidate Jeff Skinner into the boards, drawing a roughing penalty less than a minute later.

While the Pens' best-in-the-NHL penalty kill fended off the Hurricanes' first man advantage of the night, they weren't so fortunate the second time around. Matt Cooke bumped defenseman Derek Joslin into the boards from behind for a cross-checking penalty with 3:27 remaining in the period. Joslin shoved Cook afterwards, but the refs stepped in to stop the potential scrum.

The 'Canes got revenge 10 seconds into the power play, as Jussi Jokinen tapped a pass to Joe Corvo, and the defenseman scored his first goal in 19 career games versus the Pens on a slapshot. Corvo's score to put the Hurricanes up 2-0 also ended a six-game, 0-for-19 power play drought for Carolina.

Second Period
With Kovalev making silky-smooth passes, the Pens dominated the second period in the shots department -- Pittsburgh challenged 'Canes goalie Cam Ward 16 times, compared to six for the home team. That didn't translate as well on the score board, though, as both teams put one puck past the goalie in the period.

Pittsburgh killed off an Alex Kovalev interference penalty that carried over from the first period, then had two power play opportunities of their own -- Tuomo Ruutu was called for tripping new Pen James Neal 1:24 into the period, and Jamie McBain got put in the box for interference of Chris Conner about three minutes later.

The Pens had several golden opportunities to notch their first goal, with Neal getting denied by Ward at point-blank range and Jordan Staal nearly sneaking one in by swatting the puck between his legs with his back to the goal. But Carolina denied the Pens and took a 3-0 lead with 9:01 to go in the period. Erik Cole scored his 18th goal of the season by tipping one in past Fleury. Head coach Dan Bylsma then pulled Fleury in favor of Brent Johnson.

Pittsburgh's persistence finally paid off with 4:28 remaining in the second period. Rupp fired off a wrist shot that ricocheted off Ward's pads and landed right in front of Pascal Dupuis, who put a wrister of his own past the Carolina goalie from about 10 feet out.

The 'Canes captain and leading scorer, Eric Staal, left the game for good with 1:08 left in the second with an upper body injury after Matt Niskanen floored the star center.

Third Period
Again outshooting the 'Canes by a wide margin -- 12 to 6 -- the Pens were nonetheless shut out in the final period. Kris Letang dashed down the right side of the ice and clanked one off the post with 8:23 remaining, then was stuffed on a long slapshot along the left side a few seconds later.

Carolina removed all doubt about the outcome with 5:07 to go in the game. Letang tried a spin move close to the boards in 'Canes territory, but Cole floored him and the puck dribbled away. That led to a 3-on-1 opportunity for Carolina. Jokinen slipped the puck by Johnson, with Brandon Sutter and Joslin getting assists.

The Pens had another power play opportunity after Harrison was whistled for slashing Cooke with 3:03 remaining, but a Kovalev holding call 48 seconds later negated the advantage.

AK... 72
Wearing number 72 instead of his customary 27, Alex Kovalev skated 19 minutes during his first game with the Pens since the '03 season. Kovalev, acquired from the Senators for a conditional draft pick, didn't get a shot on goal and took two trips to the penalty box. He did display his trademark puck-handling skills, though, setting up Pens players with primo scoring chances that Ward stamped out.

Goals: PIT - Dupuis (11) ; CAR- Cole (18), Corvo (10), Harrison (3), Jokinen (15)
Assists: PIT- Michalek, Rupp; CAR- Cole, Jokinen, Joslin 2, McBain, Pitkanen, Staal, Sutter
Special teams: The Pens went 0-for-3 on the power play, while Carolina converted one of four chances as Corvo got the 'Canes on the board early in the first period.

Fleury was beaten three times in 11 attempts, getting the hook in the second period. Johnson stopped nine of 10 chances. Ward, the game's third star, made 33 saves in 34 shots on goal while playing in his 21st straight game.

The Pens will quickly fly north for their second of five straight road contests, opposing the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday at 7 p.m. Pittsburgh then gets a breather until March 2, but that game will also be against the Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. Carolina gets the Canadiens on the road Saturday at 7 p.m.

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