PENGUINS 2, PANTHERS 1 (SO)
PITTSBURGH – Even without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and a host of other regulars, the Penguins have found ways to win games and stay in the running for home ice when the Eastern Conference playoffs start in a few weeks.
The Penguins, who have all but wrapped up the fourth seed in the east, are actually looking for more.
With Crosby on the mend from a concussion suffered in January, Pittsburgh is taking aim at the Atlantic Division leading Flyers and pulled to within two points of their Keystone State rivals with Sunday's 2-1 shootout victory over the vacation-bound Panthers. The Penguins' four straight shootout wins is an NHL record.
As the Penguins gear up for what should be an epic battle against the Flyers Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center, the Panthers trudge along and head to Columbus to end a second-long five-game road trip. Florida has lost the first four games of this trip and five straight overall.
“You have to give their coaching staff a lot of credit. They're doing a great job,'' coach Pete DeBoer said of the Penguins. “They are also getting great goaltending. That isn't a secret. And their first four defensemen are as good as there is in the league. There's a reason teams like this win the Stanley Cup. You can take out superstar players, but .-.-.- it's a deep team.''
Florida played its best game of the trip – by far – on Sunday and had ample opportunity to jump on the Penguins. The Panthers did take a 1-0 lead in the second period as Ryan Carter redirected a shot from Alexander Sulzer and put it past Marc-Andre Fleury with 4:28 left in the second period. That goal was the first Fleury had surrendered in two-plus games.
Fleury set the Penguins franchise record by not giving up a goal in 150 minutes 13 seconds. The previous record of 136:13 was held by Jocelyn Thibault.
“I just hung out in the middle of the ice. Sulzer made a nice fake. All I did was get a stick on it,'' said Carter, who has two goals in his first eight games with the Panthers. “We had a good first period, probably could have had a 2-0 lead. We have to find a way to get those in the back of the net.''
The Penguins didn't let the Panthers hold the lead for long as Ben Lovejoy tied it two minutes after Carter's goal. The Penguins had a nice possession in the Florida zone as the Panthers failed to clear the puck, Lovejoy getting loose shortside and roofing the puck past Tomas Vokoun off a feed from Alex Kovalev.
The 1-1 score would stick as the Panthers and Penguins had a hard-fought third period. The Penguins were definitely the aggressors during the third, but Vokoun held up and stopped 11 shots.
Vokoun, it was later learned, was playing with a sore back. He said he pulled a back muscle early in the third period and had contemplated coming out and letting backup Scott Clemmensen come in. But, Vokoun said, he didn't think it was fair for Clemmensen to be forced into coming into a game cold so Vokoun held down the fort.
When the game went into overtime, Vokoun moved to the locker room and Clemmensen took over between the pipes.
“I just jammed my back but the doctor says it's just a strain and it should be fine,'' Vokoun said. “Hopefully it's going to be good.''
Clemmensen stopped four shots in the overtime period, but wasn't as luck in the shootout. The Penguins hit on two of three shots as Florida's Mike Santorelli and Niclas Bergfors were blocked. Florida dropped to 4-6 in shootouts this season with Clemmensen winning just twice in seven shootout attempts.
Florida outshot the Penguins 38-28.
“That's about as good a road game as we can play as a group,'' DeBoer said. “We limited their opportunities. We had chances, but I don't think we penetrated enough around their net like we needed to. Our fourth line got us a goal but we couldn't find a way to get another one. That's when you lose points.''
-- The Panthers played without Jack Skille and Shawn Matthias for a second straight game after the duo reinjured ankles that had cost them large chunks of the season already. Skille joined the team Tuesday after missing a month with a high ankle sprain; Matthias also played Tuesday after missing two months with a broken ankle. Matthias said he rolled his ankle a few times during Wednesday's game in Chicago.
-- The Panthers have lost the first three games of the season series to the Penguins and on the verge of not getting a win against Pittsburgh for the first time since their inaugural season of 1993-94. Florida went 0-3 with a tie against the Penguins that season. Florida went 1-0-3 against the Penguins last year.
The Penguins visit BankAtlantic Center for the final game of the series on Saturday night.
Rules of Nature: Penguins Like Shootouts, Panthers Don't ... Pittsburgh sets NHL Record with 4th Straight SO Win ... Cats have lost 5 Straight
PENGUINS 2, PANTHERS 1 (SO)