A Couple of Former Canes Haunt Their Old Team in Carolina's 4-1 Loss to the Penguins

Guentzel's return to Pittsburgh ends in defeat behind Nedeljkovic's 38-save performance and a goal from Puljujuarvi as the Canes fail to clinch a playoff spot.

Carolina Hurricanes v Pittsburgh Penguins
Carolina Hurricanes v Pittsburgh Penguins / Justin Berl/GettyImages

The Carolina Hurricanes had their first chance to clinch a playoff spot when they visited the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night. While it would take more than two points to get the job done, it signaled that the team was one step closer to competing for the league's top prize. They were looking to extend their point streak to eight games as Jake Guentzel returned to his old stomping grounds.

Pyotr Kochetkov was in the net for the Hurricanes as he looked to flush his tough performance against the Capitals on Friday night. Jesper Fast remained the only regular out of the lineup, meaning the lineup would remain the same in front of Kochetkov. Former Hurricane Alex Nedeljkovic took the net for the Penguins, looking to replicate his performance against the Canes from earlier in the season when he helped Pittsburgh to a 2-1 shootout win.

The first period was a low-event period for both sides. The Hurricanes drew the first power play of the night early in the game but weren't able to generate much against Pittsburgh's kill. Pittsburgh played a very strong first period, eventually getting a chance on the power play after Andrei Svechnikov took a very bad retaliatory penalty on Michael Bunting. The kill would bail him out, and then they did the same when Dmitry Orlov sat later in the period.

After a scoreless first period, the Penguins would be the first team to strike. After Andrei Svechnikov looked to be tripped, Jesse Puljujarvi came off the bench to bury one in transition to get Pittsburgh on the board early in the period. Pyotr Kochetkov got a piece of it, but he didn't see the initial release. The goal came shortly after Jaccob Slavin hammered a shot off the post.

While they didn't get the bounce off the iron, the Hurricanes would get a bounce a little later in the period. The fourth line provided excellent forechecking pressure, led by Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen. The puck eventually found its way out to Dmitry Orlov. His shot hit Erik Karlsson and eluded Alex Nedeljkovic to get the Canes back even. Orlov's shot was likely going several feet wide, but the fortuitous bounce had his team back in the game.

The Hurricanes dominated the second period, outshooting the Penguins by a heavy margin. Despite their efforts, nothing was going into the net. All it took was one bounce to not go their way to ruin all of their hard work. Sidney Crosby won a faceoff cleanly back to Bryan Rust, who released one without any hesitation. His shot ricocheted off Brett Pesce's skate and over Pyotr Kochetkov's shoulder with 1:51 left in the period to get the Penguins into the break up 2-1.

Trying to do his part to get the troops going, Stefan Noesen dropped the gloves against Jonathan Gruden after the Penguin laid a tough and legal hit on Jack Drury. Unfortunately, it didn't galvanize the group to find the tying goal. The Canes would come up empty on a mid-period power play as they threw the puck at Alex Nedeljkovic. In the end, Drew O'Connor and Sidney Crosby would score into the empty net to make the final score look a little worse than it was. Nedeljkovic hurt his old team once again, leading the Penguins to a 4-1 victory.

Since trading Alex Nedeljkovic after he finished third in Calder voting in 2021, he turns into the second-coming of Dominik Hasek, Martin Brodeur, and every other great goalie of all time when he plays the Hurricanes. He's now 5-2-0 in seven starts against the Canes in his career, allowing just 14 goals. While he asked for the trade, it's like he has a chip on his shoulder when he suits up against his former team.

While Nedeljkovic's performance in this one was impressive, the Hurricanes failed to make his night difficult. They threw a high volume of chances at him, especially to his glove side, but he rarely had to fight through traffic. If he saw it, he stopped it. He didn't see Dmitry Orlov's shot, nor could he anticipate the deflection. Thus, he couldn't stop it. Throwing 30 shots at a goalie in the final 40 minutes is fine, but scoring when you allow the goalie to see it coming is tough. It's not a recipe for success.

Despite being held off the scoresheet, this was about as good of a game as Jake Guentzel could've played against his former squad. He led all forwards with six shots and had some of the Hurricanes' best chances of the night. His line with Sebastian Aho and Seth Jarvis was easily the team's most lethal despite being matched up against Sidney Crosby for most of the night. While they were on the ice for the eventual game-winner, there wasn't much they could've done about it outside of Aho winning the draw.

For as good as the top line has been, it's time for the rest of the forwards to join the fun. The fourth line had good spurts in this game, setting up the only goal of the night for the Canes. This is more of a call for the Kuznetsov line to get going. After showing incredible chemistry early in their formation, they've been quiet. Andrei Svechnikov is especially in need of a big boost. He's been guilty of too many bad penalties lately, which is likely being compounded by the fact that the puck isn't finding the back of the net. He needs to snap out of it soon.

The Hurricanes' next chance to clinch a playoff spot will come on Thursday night when the Detroit Red Wings come to town. The Red Wings are another team in desperate need of points, so this is going to be a big-time battle in Raleigh. The March slate will come to an end on Saturday as the Canes travel to Montreal.