RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Pittsburgh Penguins are going one way in the Eastern Conference and the Carolina Hurricanes are going the other.
Sidney Crosby set up three goals and Matt Murray made 38 saves as the Penguins defeated the Hurricanes 3-0 Saturday night.
Jake Guentzel scored twice and Kris Letang added a goal for the Penguins, who won for the fifth time in six games. It was Murray’s second shutout in 14 starts this season.
“The last little stretch here, we’ve been playing really, really well,” Murray said. “The last 10 games or so, I would say our team has been trending in the right direction and getting better and better. We definitely wanted this one to end it on a good note.”
The Penguins will get four days off before they have to get back on the ice for another game. After six games in nine days, it’s a welcome break.
“We’ve played a lot of hockey in a short period of time,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “These guys they continue to play hard night in and night out. I couldn’t more happy for them. They deserve it.”
Crosby, who has nine points in the past five games, has helped pick the Penguins up in the Eastern Conference standings. The Penguins had lost nine of 10 before catching fire near the end of November. They are 11-4-2 since Nov. 21, when they were in last place in the conference. With 42 points, the Penguins are in eighth-place in the Eastern Conference after Saturday’s win.
Crosby wrestled with the value of taking some time off with wanting to keep the momentum going.
“A break is good in a way, you get some rest and you get to recharge,” Crosby said. “When you’re going like this, you want to keep going.”
The Hurricanes lost for the fifth time in six games.
Crosby set up behind the Carolina net and fed Letang for Pittsburgh’s first goal at 8:41 in the first period.
The second goal, just 3 minutes into the second period, was nearly identical. This time Crosby found Guentzel in front of Carolina goalie Curtis McElhinney for the score.
Crosby set up Guentzel for his second goal with 50.3 seconds left in the second period. Guentzel was alone in front of McElhinney and netted his 15th goal of the season.
The Hurricanes, with 33 points, are two points out of last place in the conference.
Carolina winger Warren Foegele had two breakaway chances in the first period, but Murray stopped both.
The only goal that initially appeared to get by Murray came with 2 minutes left in the first. Dougie Hamilton’s slap shot from the right point sailed past Murray’s right shoulder and hit the inside of the crossbar. It was ruled a goal and then overturned.
The Hurricanes fell to 2-6-1 in December and have one win in five home games this month. The players had a long meeting after the 4-1 home loss to Detroit on Thursday night. They talked about resiliency and mental toughness.
Carolina was shutout for the third time this season and first time at home.
“Defensively, as a unit we’re working pretty well,” Crosby said. “It takes time to do that but it takes a lot of effort, too. I thought we did a good job, especially the last week or two, of just focusing on taking care of our own end.”
NOTES: For the first time since moving to North Carolina in 1997, the Hurricanes will wear the old Hartford Whalers uniforms on Sunday in their home game with the Boston Bruins. Carolina owner Tom Dundon, who bought the team last January, has embraced the marketing opportunities with the popular green-and-blue Whalers logo. … The attendance of 16,264 featured plenty of Penguins fans in black and gold. … Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan improved to 10-3-1 against the Hurricanes during his four-year tenure with the Penguins.
Penguins: Get a four-day break before hosting Detroit on Dec. 27.
Hurricanes: Host Boston on Sunday.
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