Marc-Andre Fleury and the Pittsburgh Penguins not only survived a 27-shot barrage from the Florida Panthers over the first forty minutes, they took a two-goal lead into the third when an opportunistic Evgeni Malkin struck the decisive blow with 27 seconds left in the middle frame.
The Cats opened their dominance of the shot clock by outshooting the Penguins by a 16=8 margin in the first. Unfortunately, all they could find was Fleury as the back of the net remained an elusive target.
Patric Hornqvist got the only goal of the frame after Tomas Kopecky coughed up the puck to Kris Letang. The Steel town blueliner quickly fed Hornqvist in front and he was able to push the vulcanized rubber under Panthers starter Al Montoya.
Florida continued to pepper Fleury in the second to no avail. The veteran goaltender's best came when he stopped Nick Bjugstad with his glove and denied Jimmy Hayes on the subsequent rebound chance with his left pad.
The teams looked set to head off the ice with Penguins up by a single goal until disaster struck for the Cats. Erik Gudbranson's pass off the boards handcuffed Jussi Jokinen. Jokinen ended up tipping the puck to Malkin, who raced into the Florida zone and whipped a backhander through Montoya's gaping five-hole.
The deflated Cats came out in the third period and immediately surrendered another goal to Paul Martin after a mere 19 seconds. Sidney Crosby found a wide-open Martin and he ripped it by a helpless Montoya.
A few minutes later, Crosby and Malkin would combine to set up Hornqvist's second of the night with Alex Petrovic in the penalty box for high-sticking "The Kid."
Malkin got his second of the night midway through the frame on a superb effort. Malkin hassled Petrovic on the boards allowing Zach Sill to steal. Sill wisely passed it right to Malkin who stunned Montoya with a gorgeous backhand shot short side.
It took a nifty play off of a face-off for Florida to finally solve Fleury. Vincent Trocheck won the draw and skated directly towards the Pens' net before throwing the puck over to Scottie Upshall. Upshall banged the pass home for his first goal of 2015.
A very frustrating night for the Panthers, who played well enough to win for the first thirty-nine and a half minutes of the game before collapsing under the weight of their inability to finish. The loss dropped the Cats three points behind the Boston Bruins, who hammered Florida's next opponent, the Chicago Blackhawks, by a 6-2 count yesterday.
Odds & Sods
- The Penguins have now beaten the Panthers ten out of the last eleven times the teams have met in Pittsburgh.
- Scottie Upshall's goal was his first since December 28, 2014, when he scored in Florida's 6-4 win over Toronto. Upshall and Jonathan Huberdeau led the Cats with four shots apiece.
- The two helpers pushed Sidney Crosby (61 points) into a fifth-place tie with Alex Ovechkin in the NHL scoring race.
- Marc-Andre Fleury finished with 34 stops to raise his record to 27-13-6 and lower his GAA to a miserly 2.16. Fleury has yielded just seven goals in his last seven starts.
- Nick Bjugstad, Jimmy Hayes and Dmitry Kulikov all ended the game with a -3 rating.
- Florida got a spotty performance from backup Al Montoya, who turned aside 16 of 21 shots. The Big Cubano made some nice saves here and there and was definitely hung out to dry by his defense, but the first two Penguin goals looked pretty stoppable to me. Malkin's goal late in the second was a killer, cutting the Cats like a knife.
- The Panthers' power play went 0-for-3 and is now ranked 28th in the league.
- If you're a maniac, maniac on the floor, head over Pensburgh for more.