Penguins, Hurricanes clash in key divisional game

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The Carolina Hurricanes wanted to be in important games late in the season and they’ll be in that situation Tuesday night at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C.

The Pittsburgh Penguins arrive for a matchup key to the standings within the Eastern Conference.

“You just can’t afford any losses,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “The race is so tight. No one is losing around us.”

These teams are back-to-back in the Metropolitan Division, with the Penguins in third place with 88 points and the Hurricanes, who have two games in hand, fourth with 85.

Carolina and Pittsburgh have split two meetings this season, each winning with shutouts on the road. The teams meet again March 31 at Pittsburgh.

This marks the second contest of a five-game homestand for the Hurricanes, who began the stretch with Saturday night’s 4-2 victory against the Buffalo Sabres.

Carolina center Jordan Staal collected his 500th career point in that game. He said the magnitude of games is clear for the Hurricanes.

“Whether it’s your best game or not, all that really matters is if you get the two points,” Staal said. “We want to build on that again. We’ve continued to do that. You can tell the leadership and character in the room and everyone believing in themselves.”

This is the start of a four-game road trip for the Penguins.

Pittsburgh is 6-2-1 across its previous nine games, losing 2-1 in overtime Sunday night to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Despite picking up a team point, it was a disturbing result for the Penguins, who gave up the tying goal with 18.8 seconds left in regulation.

“We’re disappointed we didn’t close it out,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

Other developments are bound to impact Pittsburgh in the coming days.

Sullivan said Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, who notched his 1,000 career point last week, missed the Philadelphia game with what was been described as a week-to-week upper-body injury. His injury status wasn’t revealed until prior to Sunday’s game.

Pittsburgh plugged in Teddy Blueger on the second line with Malkin’s absence. It’s too soon to see if that’s a consistent combination, though Blueger responded with a goal.

“As far as moving forward, we’ll probably take it game to game and see how it goes,” Sullivan said.

It has been a roster shuffle for the Penguins, who got back right winger Bryan Rust from a nine-game absence from a lower-body injury.

One staple in the Pittsburgh lineup has been right winger Phil Kessel, who has played in 319 consecutive games. On Tuesday night at Carolina, he should set the franchise record for consecutive games.

Kessel, 31, shares that mark with former forward Craig Adams, who began his career with the Hurricanes before joining the Penguins.

Hurricanes goalie Curtis McElhinney notched the shutout of the Penguins last month. He was in his first game Saturday after serving as the backup for three straight games. He has made 28 starts this season, matching his career high set four years ago with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Hurricanes right winger Nino Niederreiter has 22 points in 25 games since joining the Hurricanes in a trade with the Minnesota Wild. He posted 23 points in 46 games with the Wild this season.

–Field Level Media

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