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Welcome to BlitzBurgh: Florida Panthers Perfect Season Comes to Close as Pens Are Mightier in 4-2 Win

DolphinsPITTSBURGH – Even with stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out of the lineup, the Penguins don't make any excuses for their play.

Nor should they.

The Penguins made a charge into the playoffs despite missing their two top forwards for the second half of last season and showed that they are still pretty potent without them on Tuesday.

Thanks to some strong play in net by Marc-Andre Fleury and some timely Florida mistakes, the Penguins won their home opener over the Panthers 4-2 at Consol Energy Center. 

“We had our moments, but we need more consistency to our game,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “It wasn't a complete game for us.''

Since the Panthers don't have players with the skill nor pedigree of Crosby or Malkin to begin with, the way the Penguins play as a team without them is something Florida would really like to emulate. And the Panthers aren't alone. 

The Penguins, who never trailed the Panthers, have now won eight of the past nine meetings between the two and five straight dating to Nov. 22, 2010. 

“They play together as a team and we did so in spurts during the game,'' defenseman Brian Campbell said.

“They make every little play count. That's why they've had so much success in the league. That's what we strive to get to.''

Florida was hoping to come home for its Sunrise opener 2-0 for the first time since 2005 but found itself on the losing end as Jose Theodore couldn't match the shutout performance of Saturday's season-opening 2-0 win against the host Islanders. 

The Panthers had a few scoring chances in the opening period, although it was the Penguins who went into the first break holding a 1-0 lead. 
Pittsburgh looked to take the initial lead when Tyler Kennedy's hard shot bounced off the left post during a power play chance. A few minutes later, the puck did find its way to the net when a Pascal Dupuis pounced on a rebound and knocked it through. 

Theodore started the season with a scoreless stretch that hit 74 minutes 52 seconds. 

Stephen Weiss almost slipped one past the Pittsburgh goalie as his backhanded shot hit Fleury in the helmet and skipped back, the puck fluttering around the line. The puck was eventually secured just before it crossed over, however. 

In the second period, the Penguins took advantage of Florida miscues to build a two goal advantage. Not long after Florida's Shawn Matthias had two good scoring chances – one of his shots hit the goal cage – Matt Cooke made it 2-0 midway through the period when he knocked in a pass from Joe Vitale after the Panthers were caught in a shift change. 

Florida got its first goal of the night soon afterward, with former Nashville center Marcel Goc banging home a shot top shelf just 27 seconds after Cooke's goal.

Tomas Fleischmann misplayed a puck behind the net that Richard Park jumped on, his slap shot going between Theodore's legs and off the post. The puck then hit a hard charging Kulikov as he tried to clear it and went into the net for a 3-1 advantage. 

“It was a game I felt we could have got something out of it,'' Campbell said. “We made too many mistakes. They have a good team no matter who is in the lineup. We just made casual mistakes that cost us.''

Fleischmann made amends for his poor clearing pass when he scored Florida's second goal of the night on a swift slap shot assisted by Stephen Weiss and rookie Erik Gudbranson. 

Gudbranson fired off a shot from deep that Weiss picked up. Weiss' nifty backhanded pass found Fleischmann in the right circle and the winger who now has 23 points in his past 24 games played put it home. 

The Panthers couldn't get any closer. Not long after Fleischmann's goal, Jordan Staal let a soft shot go in front that Florida's Scottie Upshall failed to clear. James Neal was in position on the left side of the net to knock the loose puck into the empty cage. 

“We need to bear down,'' Dineen said. “Those were key moments in the game and the puck is sitting right around that crease. They scored three or four around there and those are ones you really can't hang on Theodore. There's a real possibility you get those out. We didn't and ugly things happened. They caught us.''

Fleury, now 7-6-0 against the Panthers, stopped 32 shots to remain unbeaten this season. The Penguins have won three of four games this season, with backup Brent Johnson suffering a shootout loss in Edmonton on Sunday. 

Theodore had been strong in his career against the Penguins, winning 19 of 26 starts prior to Tuesday.