Raleigh, NC – Evgeni Malkin and Beau Bennett's goals 13 seconds apart midway through the third period proved to be the difference as the Pittsburgh Penguins rallied for a 5-3 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes to clinch the Atlantic Division.
Pascal Dupuis sealed the win, which assured the Penguins no worse than a No. 2 seed in the upcoming Eastern Conference playoffs, with an empty-net goal while contributing two assists. Brenden Morrow and Robert Bortuzzo also scored to help support a 25-save effort from Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Penguins last captured the Atlantic Division crown in 2008, a year in which the team eventually lost to Detroit in the Stanley Cup Finals.
"We've always had good teams, we just haven't been able to win it with our division being so tough," said defenseman Brooks Orpik. "So I think it's definitely a good thing for us, especially in the shortened season. It's been a grind here; we still have a ways to go."
Carolina had taken a 3-2 lead on Riley Nash's tally two minutes into the third period, before surrendering three unanswered scores en route to a franchise- record eighth consecutive defeat on home ice.
Joe Corvo and Bobby Sanguinetti potted goals as well for the spiraling Hurricanes, now losers of six straight overall and 1-12-1 over their last 14 games. Justin Peters stopped 28-of-32 shots in the setback.
"I think every night for the last four or five games, we've come ready to compete," said Nash. "Really, we're just coming out on the wrong end. It's tough to watch because all these guys compete so hard."
With the Penguins down 3-2, Craig Adams created a 3-on-2 rush before giving the puck off to Bennett -- just recalled from the minors as a replacement for an injured James Neal. The rookie skated in on Peters and found an opening with a backhand try to knot the score with 10:11 left to play.
Shortly after the ensuing faceoff, Pittsburgh's Jarome Iginla intercepted an intended clearing attempt and put forth a shot on goal. Peters turned back the chance, but Malkin came in uncontested from the left side to bang home the carom for the go-ahead score.
Peters was pulled with around a minute to go, but the Hurricanes failed to establish an attack and had their fate sealed when Dupuis came up with a takeaway and flicked the puck from the neutral zone into the vacated net two seconds prior to the final whistle.
"Beau got us a big goal and then Geno topped it off," said Morrow. "It was just a full effort by the whole team. Those wins feel great."
The Hurricanes drew first blood during a high-scoring first period, capitalizing on an early 4-on-3 power play that ended when Corvo whipped a wrister past Fleury following a faceoff win by ex-Penguin Jordan Staal. The goal came just 4:06 after the opening whistle.
Pittsburgh pulled even just 92 seconds later, when Bortuzzo jumped in from the back end to tip home a well-placed centering feed from Dupuis for the rookie's second career NHL goal.
Morrow's first marker as a Penguin put his new team ahead with 6:11 left in the frame. After receiving a backhand pass from former Hurricane Jussi Jokinen, the recent trade acquisition skated past Carolina's Zac Dalpe before firing a shot while falling to the ice, beating Peters to the stick side.
The Hurricanes responded less than two minutes afterward on Sanguinetti's second career goal, a blast from the left point that Fleury failed to pick up while battling traffic in front.
Neither team lit the lamp during a second period that saw tighter checking on both sides, with Pittsburgh coming up empty on a pair of power-play chances in the session.
Carolina struck quickly in the third, however, with Nash backhanding a rebound of teammate Tuomo Ruutu's attempt that Fleury initially stopped to put the Hurricanes back in front two minutes into the stanza.
Adams also finished with two assists ... Jokinen was playing in just his second game with the Penguins since being traded by the Hurricanes to Pittsburgh last Wednesday. He spent five seasons with Carolina ... In addition to being without NHL leading scorer Sidney Crosby (broken jaw) for a fourth straight game, the Penguins were also minus Neal due to a concussion sustained in Friday's 2-1 shootout win over the New York Rangers ... Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk, out since Mar. 19 with a sprained knee, returned to the team's lineup along with forward Alexander Semin, who had missed two straight tests with an upper-body injury ... Morrow potted 243 goals over 13 seasons with the Dallas Stars, who dealt the seasoned wing to Pittsburgh on Mar. 24 ... Pittsburgh improved to 9-3-0 against Southeast clubs this season and 23-8-1 in their last 32 matchups against the division.