PITTSBURGH -- It took more than 40 minutes, but the Pittsburgh Penguins finally solved Justin Peters.
For the second straight game, the Penguins prevailed thanks to a flurry of early third-period tallies -- this time it was three goals in the first 8:05 of a 4-2 victory Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes at Consol Energy Center.
Pittsburgh outshot Carolina 52-18 en route to a fourth straight victory, but Peters certainly made the Penguins work for it.
"[Peters] played well, and we knew if worked that way in the first two periods that something was bound to break and we finally opened it up in the third," Penguins center Jordan Staal said.
The win moves Pittsburgh within two points of the New York Rangers for first place in the Atlantic Division. Carolina had won two straight, but the Hurricanes played Monday night against New Jersey, and fatigue certainly looked like a problem early in the third period.
Pittsburgh outshot Carolina 21-3 in the second period and had a 37-10 lead in that department after 40 minutes, but Peters kept his team level.
"[Fatigue] is not something I like talking about too much, because it is only a factor if you make it a factor," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. "Carolina comes really hard on the forecheck and they create a lot in their game by coming hard. Our defensemen had to go back under heavy pressure, and by breaking out quickly they nullified their ability to work hard and it allowed our team to get to our game and play in the offensive zone. As the game went on, if you throw 50 shots at the net, then fatigue was a factor but it was because of the way our team executed and continued to play with the puck."
Evgeni Malkin connected with Steve Sullivan for a successful one-timer 78 seconds into the third period with the Penguins on the power play. It was Sullivan's seventh goal of the season.
Malkin had two assists in this game to move into second place in the NHL scoring lead, and his line (including wings James Neal and Chris Kunitz) combined for as many shots as the Hurricanes.
"This was one of our better games with playing the way we need to play and playing for 60 minutes," Bylsma said. "I thought the power-play goal at the beginning of the third was big for us. It was 1-1 after two and the shots doesn't mean very much until you can break through on a goalie."
Pascal Dupuis made it a two-goal advantage 70 seconds later when he snapped a wrist shot past Peters for his 11th marker of the season. Staal, playing in his 400th career game, scored from nearly the same spot on the ice on a 2-on-1 at 8:05 of the period.
"If you keep putting pucks on net and controlling the offensive zone like that, you're going to get your bounces," Neal said. "We just wanted to stick with it, and we did that."
Tim Brent gave Carolina the lead with the lone goal of the opening period. Pittsburgh's Zbynek Michalek tried to get the puck of his own zone from behind the net, but Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason intercepted it at the left point and sent it towards the far post.
Brent was there for an easy re-direct behind goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury at 10:23 of the period. It was Brent's fourth goal of the season. Brent also had two assists Monday night in Carolina's win against New Jersey.
"We wanted to come in here and get a good gritty road win," Hurricanes captain Eric Staal said. "We got off to a good start with the lead, but they seemed to continue to go at us and continue to throw pucks from everywhere on the ice and eventually it seemed to turn for them."
If Pittsburgh controlled the play in the first period, the Penguins dominated the second in epic fashion. The Penguins outshot the Hurricanes 21-3 in the period, including five in the first minute alone while on the power play.
Peters was making his first start of the season for the Hurricanes in net, and he was fantastic. He stopped all 36 shots he faced in the first 40 minutes, but the Penguins officially had 37 on net -- and Neal tied the contest at one at 8:10.
Chris Kunitz skated through a pair of Carolina defenders and eventually put a backhanded shot through Peters' legs into the blue paint. Defenseman Bryan Allen tried to sweep the puck out of danger, but it hit Neal's stick, then Allen's body and trickled across the goal line.
The goal was No. 21 on the season for Neal -- just six shy of his career high. Pittsburgh had a 37-10 advantage in shots after 40 minutes, but Peters kept his team level.
"I'll take them like that any day, but that was certainly a weird one," Neal said.
Tuomo Ruutu cut Pittsburgh's lead to 4-2 with 5:07 remaining in the third period. Fleury tried to play the puck to his left from behind the net, but it deflected toward the slot and Jussi Jokinen fed Ruutu for his 14th tally of the season.
The Hurricanes had a power-play in the final minutes and a chance to put the outcome in doubt, but Carolina dropped to 12-20-6 and remains nine points back of eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
"I think we were maybe going at like 90 percent and you have to have that 100 percent, especially when you are playing on the road and playing a team like Pittsburgh," Ruutu said. "I didn't think we were quite there."