RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are showing how to play a winning brand of hockey late in games.
The defending Stanley Cup champions improved to 25-0-0 when leading after two periods as Sidney Crosby scored his NHL-leading 33rd goal, and Matt Murray stopped 29 shots in a 3-1 victory over the slumping Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night.
"It's important you know how to finish games and how to play with the lead, and I think our team knows how to do that," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. "They have shown their ability to play in a one-goal game or a two-goal game and continue to try to play the game on our toes and not go into any sort of prevent defense.
"Our team is at its best when we go at teams. Our thought our third period was by far our best."
The Penguins (37-14-8) were outplayed for most of the first two periods before Crosby struck on a five-on-three power play, deflecting in a shot by Phil Kessel, who tied Evgeni Malkin for the team lead with his 35th assist. Kessel also leads the NHL with 26 power-play points.
The goal gave Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead at 16:21 of the middle period.
Malkin put the game away at 9:41 of the third period with his 25th. He took a centering pass from Carl Hagelin off a faceoff.
"We got into some penalty trouble and it took away a lot from our momentum and the way we wanted to get started and it took us awhile to get the lead," Crosby said. "This wasn't pretty, but sometimes that's how you have to win."
Pittsburgh won despite losing yet another defenseman. This time it was Trevor Daley, who tried one shift in the third but couldn't finish due to a lower-body injury. Sullivan, who is already down defensemen Justin Schultz and Olli Maatta, said Daley would be evaluated when the team returns to Pittsburgh.
"As long as we have to," Sullivan said in response to a question about how long the Pens can keep replacing defensemen. "That's just the nature of our business, and fortunately we have some depth, some guys who have stepped in and done an admirable job. We're hopeful it won't be anything significant with Trevor. We'll see where that goes."
The Hurricanes (24-24-8) fell to 0-4-1 in their past five, having been outscored 19-4 during that stretch to drop out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Following a four-game winning streak over a six-day span in mid-January, Carolina is 3-9-1.
"When you have the opportunity to get a lead on a team like this, you need to do it because if you don't, you see what happens, they get a five-on-three goal and then you're chasing it from there," Carolina defenseman Ron Hainsey said.
Crosby was able to strike against the league's No. 1 penalty-killing unit while parked in front of Ward with Sebastian Aho off for interference and Viktor Stalberg following the rookie to the box 1:04 later with a slashing penalty.
Murray, who improved his career record to 31-9-4 in his first 47 NHL games, kept his team in the game through 40 minutes, stopping 23 of the 24 shots thrown his way, including a remarkable blocker save against Victor Rask with 5:43 left in the second to keep the score tied 1-1. Crosby scored two minutes later.
"He's a big reason we won tonight," Crosby said of Murray. "They got some really good power-play looks, and he made some key saves. When you have tough starts and you face some adversity, you need your goalie to come up big, and he did that for us."
Pittsburgh blasted Carolina 7-1 a month ago at PNC Arena and wasted little time getting on the board in this one. Scott Wilson redirected a shot from Patric Hornqvist past Ward at 2:15 of the opening period.
"I thought we had the right mindset coming in, especially coming off two losses," Crosby said.
However, Jeff Skinner registered his fifth 20-goal season in his first seven NHL seasons, tying the score at 1-1 with a power-play goal six minutes later after Malkin was called for his second consecutive penalty.
"We want Geno on the ice because he's a difference-maker for us," Sullivan said in response to the three minor penalties taken by Malkin.
Carolina fell to 6-13-2 against the Metropolitan Division.
-- The Penguins have outscored Carolina 13-4 in three meetings this season, with Pittsburgh winning all three times.
-- Carolina G Cam Ward, who started for the 30th time in 32 games, finished with 19 saves.
-- D Ron Hainsey played in his 300th game with the Hurricanes.
-- C Jeff Skinner moved into sole possession of 10th place on the games played list for Carolina with 473, passing current team GM Ron Francis.
-- Pittsburgh C Nick Bonino (illness) missed a game for the first time this season.
-- Penguins LW Carl Hagelin played in his 400th NHL game.
-- Pittsburgh's next game will be played outdoors at Heinz Field against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday night in the Coors Light Stadium Series.
-- Carolina C Jordan Staal has just one goal in 17 career games against his former team.