By Will Graves
The Associated Press
Jussi Jokinen scored his first career hat trick and the Pittsburgh Penguins pulled away from the Carolina Hurricanes for a 5-2 win Tuesday night.
Jokinen, who was acquired from the Hurricanes last spring, helped the Penguins improve to 3-0, opening the scoring in the first period and adding two goals in the third after Carolina drew even at 2-2.
Paul Martin and Tanner Glass also scored for Pittsburgh, while Sidney Crosby picked up his first two assists of the season. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 32 shots for the Penguins, who have not trailed through three games. Pittsburgh has outscored opponents 12-3 while getting off to the franchise’s best start since 1994-95.
Eric Staal and Nathan Gerbe scored for the Hurricanes and Cam Ward made 32 saves, but Carolina crumbled in the final 15 minutes after erasing an early two-goal deficit.
The Penguins brought in Jokinen last March after four-plus seasons in Carolina, hoping the talented winger would help them lift the Stanley Cup. The rebuilding Hurricanes even agreed to pay $900,000 of the $3 million Jokinen is due this year just to get him out of town.
While Jokinen and Pittsburgh failed to win a championship, he showed an ability to blend in with Penguins stars Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
The Hurricanes drew even on Gerbe’s goal 3:13 into the third period, but it didn’t last long. Jokinen sandwiched goals around a marker by Glass and the Penguins were off to their best start since the 1994-95 team won its first seven games.
The Penguins came in 0 for 3 on the season on the power play before breaking through 14:17 into the first period. With Carolina’s Jay Harrison off for tripping, Pittsburgh took the lead when Crosby tried a centering pass that deflected off Staal and right to Jokinen. The former Hurricane collected the puck with his skate and kicked it to his stick. His backhand shot slid past Ward and put the Penguins in front.
Pittsburgh appeared to double its lead just over 2 minutes later. Crosby worked behind the net and fed Chris Kunitz in front. Ward made the initial stop before the puck fell to the ice and rolled under Ward’s pads thanks to a little help from Pascal Dupuis’ skate. The goal was overturned on review, however, after replay officials ruled Dupuis intentionally kicked the puck past Ward.
All it did was postpone the Penguins going up by two until the second period. The teams were skating four-on-four when Brooks Orpik fired a shot wide of the net that banged off the endboards and back in front of the net and onto the stick of a sliding Martin, who had little trouble throwing it behind a badly out of position Ward.
The Hurricanes were bottled up completely by Pittsburgh’s revamped defense until midway through the second when their captain went to work. Staal nearly put Carolina on the board with a slick move down the left wing only to have Fleury make a spectacular split-pad save.
Fleury wouldn’t be so fortunate the next time Staal went to work. Staal drew the Hurricanes within one when he managed to deflect Justin Faulk’s shot from the point with his stick even as he was getting checked to the ice by Orpik. Fleury never had a chance as Staal’s 15th goal in 35 career games against Pittsburgh found plenty of room over Fleury’s shoulder.
Gerbe tied it when he pounced on a rebound and slipped it by Fleury’s right pad and into the net.
It didn’t last long.
Malkin put Pittsburgh in front to stay less than 90 seconds later. He collected the puck high in the zone and waited patiently for a line change then fed a streaking Jokinen, whose wrist shot sailed over Ward’s right shoulder.
Ward made a series of flashy saves during extended Pittsburgh pressure, but mishandled a cover off a shot by Glass, allowing the grinder to score for the first time this season.
NOTES: Penguins F James Neal missed his second straight game with an undisclosed injury. Neal aggravated a pre-existing problem during Pittsburgh’s season opener against New Jersey last week. Coach Dan Bylsma said Neal is more “week to week” than “day to day.” ... The Penguins begin a two-game road swing through Florida on Friday when they play the Panthers ... Carolina plays at Washington on Thursday in the franchise’s 1,200th game since relocating from Hartford in 1997.
Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP