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Eric Staal's goal, 2 assists lift Hurricanes over Penguins, 5-2; Cam Ward collects 27 saves

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RALEIGH, North Carolina — Cam Ward stood tall in his return from a bout with a virus, and his Carolina Hurricanes teammates gave the goalie plenty of offensive help.

Eric Staal had a goal and two assists Thursday night as the Hurricanes beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2 on Thursday night.

The victory not only gave Carolina a split of the four-game season series, but it ended a recent string of tough results at home.

Ryan Murphy, Jay McClement, Alexander Semin and Andrej Nestrasil scored for Carolina, which had been 0-3-3 in its last six home games since a 7-4 win over Edmonton on March 8. Brad Malone had a pair of assists as Carolina won for the first time in its last five home games against the Penguins.

"It was a funny game," Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said. "It didn't seem like there was a lot of flow early. But Cam made some huge saves. I think we did the right thing by making sure he was 100 percent healthy and had his strength back before we played him.

"There was a lot of offense. They had a bunch of good looks and so did we. Eric had a bunch of good looks that he didn't quite finish on but generated a lot of quality, Grade A chances."

Brandon Sutter and Ian Cole scored for the Penguins, who had won the previous four season series with Carolina before the teams won two games apiece this time.

"I liked our start," Pittsburgh coach Mike Johnston said. "And they capitalized on a turnover on their first goal. But I thought what happened was that we didn't capitalize on our chances.

Ward, playing for the first time in five games, finished with 27 saves. Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury made 23.

"It was fun to get back into the net," Ward said. "I had a rough go with the sickness, and I was just happy to be back feeling healthy. I was a little bit anxious to start the game, but after I made a couple of saves, the nerves calmed down.

PHOTO: Carolina Hurricanes' Eric Staal (12) and Ryan Murphy (7) celebrate following Staal's goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, March 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Carolina Hurricanes' Eric Staal (12) and Ryan Murphy (7) celebrate following Staal's goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, March 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

"(Pittsburgh) is a strong hockey team and they've got some of the best players in the world. They're known to be a high-scoring team. They've been hard-pressed to score goals lately. Tonight they shot a lot of pucks, but I was seeing it really well."

Carolina led 2-1 after the first period despite being outshot 14-7.

The teams exchanged goals during an early 4-on-4 situation.

Sutter put the Penguins ahead at 3:54, beating Ward from the doorstep with Sidney Crosby on the assist.

Eric Staal evened it 5:05, beating Fleury from the low slot with his younger brother, Jordan Staal, on the helper. And Murphy put Carolina up 2-1 at 8:27, beating Fleury glove side after a perfect cross-ice pass from Malone.

"They capitalized (on the first goal) when we turned the puck over," said Eric Staal, Carolina's captain. "But it was nice to get that one back quickly - Jordan made a great play in picking the pass off and finding me in the slot.

"I thought we built the game as it went on. We got better and better and were pretty opportunistic when we had our chances. We kind of separated ourselves in the third period."

McClement made it 3-1 at 11:38 of the second, scoring stick side from the top of the right circle following another solid cross-ice pass from Malone.

And Alexander Semin took the lead to three with Riley Nash on the primary assist on the rush.

Nestrasil added a power-play goal in the third. Cole finished the scoring at 15:55 with Craig Adams on the first assist.

NOTES - Carolina hosts New Jersey on Saturday night while the Penguins return home against Arizona. ... Carolina D Jack Hillen (concussion) missed his 10th straight game and D Rasmus Rissanen (MCL) his fifth. RW Patrick Dwyer and D Brett Bellemore were healthy scratches. ... Pittsburgh D Christian Ehrhoff (upper body) was out, while C Evgeni Malkin (lower body) missed his sixth straight game and RW Patric Hornqvist (undisclosed) his fifth. ... Crosby has a 13-game points streak against Carolina. ... Eric Staal's goal was his 20th, giving him at least 20 in nine of his 11 NHL seasons.

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