RBC CENTER/RALEIGH Back in the saddle.

If you’re keeping score this is my first Carolina Hurricanes game for Triangle Offense, pinch-hitting for talented young regular beat writer Kate Shefte who was unable to be at tonight’s game. Don’t worry, she’ll be back soon.

Until May I had been the Hurricanes beat writer for the Incredible Shrinking Durham Herald-Sun ever since this building opened in 1999 (and probably still have written about more total wins, losses and ties in this building than anyone else.) Until the day after Game 7 of Carolina’s storied upset of the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, that is, when the Paxton Media suits in Kentucky decided they would replace me with so much air and pocket the big salary.

Anyway, Carolina’s home games in the Eastern Finals against the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Penguins were the first Hurricanes playoff games in the state I did not witness in person.

Pittsburgh, of course, summarily dismissed the Hurricanes in four games, so Carolina should have a bit of a chip on the shoulder coming into tonight’s contest.

Pittsburgh comes in with a 5-1 record, tied with the New York Rangers for the league lead in points, and is perfect in four road games so far. The 2-3 Hurricanes are wearing their black “third jerseys.”

And the Hurricanes recover from a 2-0 deficit after two periods on a pair of Ray Whitney (pictured) goals to tie the score before Chris Kunitz beats Cam Ward five-hole in the third sudden-death round of shootout attempts for a 3-2 Pittsburgh win.

There are always a lot of side stories with this game. Eric Staal and his brother Jordan, who plays for the Penguins, were both at Canada’s most recent Olympic training camp – along with brother Marc who is a defenseman for the Rangers. Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is of course on that roster as are both goalies, the Hurricanes’ Ward and the Penguins’ Marc-André Fleury. In an aside, Fleury was the No. 1 pick in the league’s 2003 draft in Nashville while Eric Staal was No. 2.

(Shameless family plug) Carolina forward Tom Kostopoulos is a former Penguin, while Pittsburgh winger Craig Adams is a former Hurricane who along with his wife Anne was in a childbirth class at REX Hospital with Gwen and me in the spring of 2007. Our Anna Rose and their son Rhys Argeo were born a few days apart.

Carolina is playing for the fifth straight game without defenseman Joni Pitkanen (lower body).

Pittsburgh strikes first at 14:24 of the first, when Michael Rupp beats Ward glove side on a rush with Evgeni Malkin and Alex Goligoski on the helpers.

The Penguins double their lead at 4:27 of the second, as Malkin roofs the puck over Ward’s glove-side shoulder from the left doorstep with Pascual Dupuis and Kunitz on the helpers.

Carolina gets a soft goal and wakes up the house at 4:25 of the third. Ray Whitney receives a pass into the slot from Tuomo Ruutu along the right boards and slides the puck between Fleury’s pads. Joe Corvo collects the secondary helper on Whitney’s 100th Carolina goal.

The Hurricanes pick up some more momentum at 5:29 of the third, as Ward stops a point-blank shot from the right doorstep with a glove that partially passes through the plane above the goal line. The replay is inconclusive and there’s no goal.

And at 10:04 “The Wizard” (Whitney) strikes again, redirecting Tim Gleason’s high slap from the left point past Fleury with Ruutu on the secondary.

But after an overtime in which Ward makes a big save on Malkin, the shootout doesn’t go the Hurricanes’ way. Jussi Jokinen beats Fleury backhand glove side in the second round before Crosby reciprocates going top shelf at the other end.

After seven misses including a Matt Cullen shot off the crossbar, Kunitz gets it done.

The Hurricanes get a point despite being outshot 38-29.

They said it …

Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice: “We were a better offensive team than we have been all year. I know we scored seven against Florida, but tonight looked like the first time we played our forecheck that we used to have last season.”

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma: “We were playing well. It was a mistake and a little bit of puck management that allowed them to get back in the game, but I think the general feeling is that we’re playing well, we’re doing good things and we’re playing the right way.”

Whitney: “It’s a game to build on. Whenever you play the Stanley Cup Champions and have to come from behind to do it, it’s a tribute to our hockey club that we didn’t change the way we played and try to go all offense in the third. We played the same way we played the first two periods. Again I tip my hat to Cam Ward and the way he played. He’s the reason we got a point tonight.”

What does it all mean?

That the Penguins are still playing like the Cup champions, and that the Hurricanes can go toe-to-toe with them.

Stars of the game

1. Cam Ward.

2. Malkin.

3. Whitney.

Play of the game

Whitney’s second goal.

All-time series

Carolina is 49-49-12-1.


Hurricanes: Lost 2.

Penguins: Won 4.

On deck

Carolina at New Jersey, Saturday, 7 p.m.

Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh, Saturday, 7:30 p.m.