PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins moved four points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes in the Metropolitan Division with a 3-1 win at PPG Paints Arena on Sunday.
The win also moved third-place Pittsburgh (43-25-11) within two points of the New York Islanders for second. The Penguins trail the first-place Washington Capitals by five points.
Matt Murray made 37 saves, Patric Hornqvist scored his first even-strength goal in 32 games and Matt Cullen had a goal and an assist for the Penguins, who have won four of their past five games.
“The players understand how high the stakes are,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said, “and how important this game was for us, and Carolina. That’s the commitment on the players’ part. I thought they did a great job down the stretch. Carolina was throwing a lot of pucks on the net from everywhere.
“I give the players a lot of credit. That’s an indication of their commitment level.”
Carolina (43-29-7) fell into the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference, one point behind the Columbus Blue Jackets following their 4-0 win at the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday. The Hurricanes are one point ahead of the Montreal Canadiens.
Jaccob Slavin scored and Curtis McElhinney made 25 saves for Carolina, which has lost three of its past four games.
“We have to pick our pieces up and focus on the next one,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “Obviously, we have to win our next three. … I’m not really worried about the effort. The effort was fine tonight.”
Garrett Wilson gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead at 10:45 of the first period. Cullen sent a pass into the crease off Wilson’s stick blade and skate before Wilson scored on a wrist shot. It was upheld after the Hurricanes challenged for goaltender interference.
Cullen made it 2-0 with 1:15 remaining in the first. Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin poked the puck away from Hurricanes forward Justin Williams to Adam Johnson, who sent Cullen on a 2-on-1 and he scored blocker side from the right face-off circle.
Hornqvist extended the lead to 3-0 on a one-timer 46 seconds into the third period. It was his first goal 5-on-5 since Jan. 6.
“It was nice,” Hornqvist said. “I’ve been struggling lately to find the back of the net. (I’ve) had a lot of chances and it finally went in. Hopefully it can come in bunches.
“We played so hard tonight. I think it was one of the best team efforts of the season. When the stakes are high, we always seem to find our extra gear. That’s what happened today.”
Slavin made it 3-1 with a slap shot on a power play at 12:12 of the third.
“It obviously wasn’t a great start for us,” Slavin said. “We weren’t happy with that. We dug ourselves a hole. We didn’t really get to our game until the second period. Can’t be doing that at this time of year.”
They said it
“Just didn’t have any jump, I guess. We were pretty flat. We didn’t make smart decisions. It cost us, I think. Obviously they got those two goals, and I think there were some mistakes on our end on both of them that allow the plays to develop. They capitalized and we just weren’t able to bounce back.” — Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk
“[The Hurricanes] are a good team. They don’t give you much space out there. They’re going to get pucks to the net. They’re good off transition. So it was a battle, but I thought we played really well. They had their pushes, but we weathered the storm and got it done.” — Penguins goalie Matt Murray
Need to know
Hurricanes defenseman Calvin de Haan left with an upper-body injury after being pushed to the ice by Penguins forward Jake Guentzel and sliding into the boards at 1:21 of the second period. De Haan was expected to return to Carolina after the game. “It’s not good,” Brind’Amour said. … Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin was out for a seventh straight game because of an upper-body injury. … Johnson got his first two points in his fifth NHL game.
Hurricanes: At the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET; TSN4, FS-CR, NHL.TV)
Penguins: At the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET; FS-D+, ATTSN-PT, NHL.TV)