PENGUINS 3, PANTHERS 2
BY GEORGE RICHARDS
Rare has been the night when the Panthers penalty kill has been a concern this season. And, despite having plenty of firepower, the Pittsburgh Penguins power play hasn't been very productive.
That wasn't the case Monday night, however, as the Penguins scored two first period goals while holding a man advantage before adding an even-strength goal from Chris Conner with 7:04 remaining as Pittsburgh topped the Panthers 3-2 in front of an announced 16,543 at BankAtlantic Center.
Florida's power play was blacked out once more. The Panthers went 0-for-5 on Monday and are now scoreless in their past 26 opportunities. Not surprisingly, Florida has the lowest power play percentage in the league and the fewest such goals. The Panthers haven't scored on the power play since Nov. 10.
“Our power play cost us a game again,'' an angry Bryan McCabe said. “They get two, we get zero. We had a lot of opportunities. It has to win us a game at some point. Right now it's costing us games.''
Coming into the game, Florida had only surrendered two power play goals in two previous games as its penalty kill was ranked sixth in the league. Conversely, Pittsburgh had only scored a pair of power play goals in two other games and hadn't done so since Oct. 18.
“We were down 2-0, but sometimes people make good plays and obviously you want to kill those penalties off but that won't be the case every night,'' said goalie Tomas Vokoun, who made 23 saves. “It's hard to win every night 5-on-5. You need power play goals and we need to find a way to find them. No team in the league can win on a consistent basis without it.''
The Penguins looked to run away with the night early on after Kris Letang beat Tomas Vokoun just five seconds into Stephen Weiss' penalty for colliding with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury 4:07 into the game.
On Pittsburgh's second power play chance, Sidney Crosby – who is in a tight race for the scoring lead with Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos – dipped and dodged his way through the Panthers defense and scored with eight seconds remaining in Marty Reasoner's hooking penalty.
The Panthers didn't commit another penalty the rest of the night. Trailing 2-0 against the Penguins is not where any team wants to be, yet the Panthers persevered.
With 35 seconds left in the opening period, defenseman Jason Garrison fired a shot at Fleury and the puck bounded toward Cory Stillman in front of the net. The veteran winger put up his stick and deflected it – picture a baseball player laying down a bunt – past Fleury. After a review (to make sure Stillman didn't use his hand to move the puck along) it was determined to be a good goal and the Panthers went into the break with a little momentum by cutting their deficit to one.
Florida tied the score at the 6:47 mark of the second when McCabe came in hard through the slot and picked the pocket of Pittsburgh's Mark Letestu and came out firing, putting the puck to the back of the net.
Conner got his first goal of the season as he put a puck through Vokoun's legs to give Pittsburgh the final lead of the night. Florida is now 1-4 in games in which it was tied going into the third; the Penguins are 6-2-1 in such scenarios.
“They're a great team. They were on a roll, they were rested,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “The first period was the story of the game. We looked like we had just come off a road trip and they jumped on us. In the second and third, we played the way we wanted to and scratched back. It just wasn't enough.''
BERNIER IN SUNRISE
Winger Steve Bernier hasn't been back to the BankAtlantic Center since he suffered a fractured orbital bone at the end of Florida's 2-1 win over Minnesota on Nov. 12.
Bernier said he will be checked out this week and could be back in the lineup soon if everything is healing properly. Bernier needed surgery after getting hit by the butt end of Minnesota's Brett Burns' stick during a fight after time has expired.
-- Radek Dvorak was honored before Monday's game for becoming the franchise leader in games played. Dvorak played in his 574th game as a member of the Panthers on Nov. 12.
General manager Dale Tallon went to center ice and presented him with a framed collage including the score sheet from his first game with Florida as a rookie in 1995 and the lineup sheet from the game against Minnesota.
-- A number of players (Dvorak, Byron Bitz and Dmitry Kulikov) will be at the Cooperative Feeding Program in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday. The players will help stock the pantries, assist in the kitchen and and hand out turkeys and food boxes to families.