Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin (71) tries to maintain control of the puck after getting by Carolina Hurricanes' Nathan Gerbe (14) in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Keith Srakocic
December 31, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) Brandon Sutter picked the best time to score his first goal against his former team.

Sutter scored the game-winning goal in the final two minutes to lead the struggling Pittsburgh Penguins over the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1 on Wednesday.

Sutter, acquired from the Hurricanes in a 2012 trade that sent Jordan Staal to Carolina, scored his eighth of the year, while Beau Bennett, playing for the first time in 16 games, set up both Penguins' goals. Chris Kunitz also scored his 11th for the Penguins, who snapped a four-game losing streak and avoided dropping back-to-back home games for the first time this season.

''It's always fun playing against your old team, especially when you can beat them,'' Sutter said. ''It's a good way to end the year.''

Eric Staal scored his ninth of the year and his second goal in as many games. The Hurricanes, who lost for the 11th time in their last 13 games, managed just 16 goals during that span. Carolina, which suffered its 12th one-goal loss of the season, nearly won in Pittsburgh for the second time in a little more than a month despite having one of the worst road records in the league.

''We play hard, we play right, but we have to generate more,'' Staal said. ''We have to get more offense out of everybody, and it's obviously a broken record and beaten to death, but it is what it is.''

Marc-Andre Fleury, making a season-high eighth straight start, stopped 24 shots. Cam Ward made 37 saves for Carolina.

The Hurricanes pushed hard early in the third, trying to break a 1-1 tie.

Defenseman Justin Faulk hit the post during a power-play in the first two minutes of the period, and, moments later, Fleury denied Jay McClement with a sliding save during a two-on-one. He later stopped Elias Lindholm with a glove save on a partial breakaway during another Hurricanes' power play.

''We had three turnovers and those were the big saves that (Fleury) made,'' Penguins' coach Mike Johnston said. ''When we had a breakdown, which we had three big ones, (Fleury) was there for all of those.''

It also allowed Sutter to score the game-winner against his former team with 1:42 remaining. Bennett set up Sutter in the slot, who sent a wrist shot over Ward's shoulder on the blocker side.

''Those ones always feel good,'' said Sutter, who missed a couple games earlier this month while experiencing mumps symptoms. ''Fortunately, it went my way tonight.''

Not much has gone Pittsburgh's way lately.

The Penguins have experienced a depleted lineup the last several weeks while battling injury and a league-wide mumps outbreak, leading to their worst losing streak in three years. They had help on Wednesday after the return of Bennett and Craig Adams along with defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. Bennett, who has missed 90 of the Penguins' last 118 games, was out the past 16 with mumps and a lower body injury, but his impact was felt on Wednesday.

''He looked good for a guy that's missed quite a bit of time,'' Sutter said. ''First game back you're usually a little jittery, but once he got playing he looked like he belonged right where he was.''

Pittsburgh outshot Carolina, 17-7 in the second period, but couldn't get the go-ahead goal, missing out on a pair of power-play opportunities. Carolina's best chance to break the deadlock came in the final minute when Fleury denied Jiri Tlusty with a glove save from in front.

''We gave up a lot of breakaways and chances, but I thought (Fleury) held us in there,'' Sutter said.

NOTES: Pittsburgh won seven of the last nine against Carolina at home and 10 of 13 overall. . Hurricanes' D Michal Jordan left midway through the second period after dislocating his finger, but later returned. . Tlusty played in his 300th game with the Hurricanes. . Both teams play at home on Friday, Pittsburgh hosting Tampa Bay, while Carolina welcomes Philadelphia. . Carolina scratched Alexander Semin (upper body) and Tim Gleason, while Pittsburgh sat forwards Rob Klinkhammer and Steve Downie and D Scott Harrington.

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