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Florida Panthers Get a Steel Boot to the Curb, Lose to Penguins 5-2

Zombies PENGUINS 5, PANTHERS 2

BY GEORGE RICHARDS
grichards@MiamiHerald.com

PITTSBURGH – Back during the bruising heydays of the Philadelphia Flyers, opposing hockey players who didn't exactly feel like getting pounded on would mysteriously come down with a malady known as the 'Philly Flu.'

Don't be surprised if goaltenders around the league start complaining of having some sort of illness before they face Pennsylvania's other hockey team.

Led by Sidney Crosby – who else? -- the Penguins continued their dominating ways on Wednesday as they scored three goals in the first half of the opening period en route to a 5-2 win over the Panthers at the team's new arena near downtown.

Panthers coach Pete DeBoer, who excused himself early from Wednesday's morning skate because of a flu bug, pulled goalie Tomas Vokoun less than 11 minutes into the game following the Penguins third goal. Hard to blame Vokoun too much, however. Florida was being outshot 14-2 at the time.

“The game was over in the first 10 minutes. That was the story,'' DeBoer said. “There's a reason they are where they are in the standings and have been on the run they've been on. We knew that. All the things we did in Philadelphia the other night, we didn't bring to the rink. When we did, it was too late.''

The Penguins have won 10 of their past 12 games in their new digs, but they won't have that advantage Thursday when they visit Washington in a preview of next week's Winter Classic. The Penguins play the Capitals at Heinz Field on New Year's Day.

In those 10 wins in Pittsburgh, the red-hot Penguins have outscored their foes 40-16.

Igloo “They are a good team and are playing well right now. They play well at home,'' replacement goalie Scott Clemmensen (18 saves) said. “Anytime you spot a team three goals before you get going it's going to be hard to come back. It became too much for us to climb out of. We did have some positives in the second and third.''

Cameras from HBO have been following around the Penguins and Capitals the past few weeks for the latest installment of its reality series 24/7. The Panthers had a cameo in the first episode as Florida beat the host Capitals 3-0. The Penguins all but insured the Panthers will get at least a little look in next week's episode as Mark Letestu and Crosby both had highlight goals against Vokoun.

Letestu scored Pittsburgh's first goal 90 seconds in as he took a pass from Tyler Kennedy and skated in on Vokoun, holding his shot until Vokoun flinched. Once he did, Letestu rifled the puck into the cage.

Florida's Stephen Weiss quickly tied the score when his slap shot hit backup goalie Brent Johnson but trickled through on the Panthers' first shot of the night. But Crosby put the Penguins back up for good five minutes later when he whipped a long shot from the left side that Vokoun may or may not have seen.

Crosby has now scored at least a point in 22 straight games – tying Ottawa's Dany Heatley (Nov. 2005) as the longest such streak in the league since the lockout year. Crosby has a long way to go in catching the Wayne Gretzky's all-time mark of 51 straight games. Mario Lemieux holds the franchise record by scoring in 46 straight during the 1989-90 season.

The Panthers were much more of a factor after the score got a little out of hand, and after Ben Lovejoy scored in the second period to make it 4-1, Florida started putting on some pressure.

Johnson ended up leaving the game after suffering an undisclosed 'lower body injury' late in the second, with usual starter Marc-Andre Fleury taking over the third. That was bad news for Florida as Fleury made 15 saves. One those was great stop against Chris Higgins from point blank range. Bryan McCabe got Florida's second goal with 3:46 left, one answered by Pascal Dupuis' empty net shot with 28 seconds remaining.

“I wish we would have played our game,'' DeBoer said. “They're obviously a great team and Crosby is a great player. I just wish we would have given them more of a game.''

AMERICAN BOYS

Two Florida prospects were named to Team USA's roster for the upcoming world junior tournament being held in Buffalo later this week. University of Minnesota freshman center Nick Bjugstad and University of Denver sophomore Drew Shore will both likely attend Florida's game on Thursday night in Buffalo.

Bjugstad was a first-round pick by the Panthers this past June; Shore was a second-round selection in 2009.

-- The Panthers upcoming break may be coming at a perfect time as DeBoer and a few of his assistants have complained of illness. Florida will visit Buffalo on Thursday, with some players and staffers flying back to Fort Lauderdale soon afterward. A good number of players will go elsewhere for Christmas. The Panthers return to practice Sunday at 3 p.m. in Coral Springs.

-- Crosby has scored in six straight games against the Panthers, scoring six goals with two assists. Not surprisingly, the Penguins have gone 5-1 against Florida during that span.

THURSDAY: PANTHERS AT SABRES
When, Where: 7 p.m.; HSBC Arena, Buffalo
TV/Radio: FSNF; 560-WQAM
The series: Sabres lead 38-23-4
The game: This will be the second meeting between the two in a week, with Florida beating the Sabres 6-2 in Sunrise last Friday. Buffalo followed that up with a loss in Tampa Bay the next night, but beat Anaheim at home on Tuesday. .-.-. The Panthers have only won three of their past 10 games in Buffalo, but one of those wins was last season's 6-2 thumping on Nov. 18, 2009. 

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