Recap: Panthers march to 4-1 win over the Penguins

Confounding Cats find a way to stay in the chase

Four different players lit the lamp and Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 31 shots as the Florida Panthers stayed firmly ensconced in the wild card or bust pack with a 4-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

While the offense was gearing up during the first period, the Panthers concentrated on playing defense and held the visitors to just three shots on goal.

The Cats finally starting testing Casey DeSmith and broke through with 22 seconds left in the frame when Matthew Tkachuk sent Carter Verhaeghe in on the goaltender and he put a shot off of his left pad that Sam Bennett swept home on the backhand.

Aaron Ekblad extended the lead to two 4:11 into the second with Kris Letang off for slashing Nick Cousins. After taking a cross from the defenseman, Aleksander Barkov passed the puck back to the right circle and Ekblad got it by DeSmith for his tenth of the season. Brandon Montour was credited with the secondary helper on the play.

Letang would make up for his penalty 4:40 later when Jake Guentzel collected Evgeny Malkin pass down the gut and sent the puck to the left circle and the defenseman beat Bobrovksy stick-side. Anthony Duclair and Eric Staal were in the sin bin when Pittsburgh scored. Oops...

With time running down in the period, Bobrovsky would rob Sidney Crosby with his blocker to keep the Cats ahead and they were able to rebuild a two-goal advantage forty seconds later at the 19:50 mark.

After DeSmith made a glove save on Montour, Eetu Luostarinen took possession of the puck  along the left boards and then set up Barkov for a one-timer that was denied. The juicy rebound sat out front for a couple seconds before Luostarinen got to it and found the beckoning net,

Verhaeghe would ice the game midway through the third when he took an long cross-ice outlet from Tkachuk, who had taken a pass up the boards from Montour, and wound up using Letang as a screen, beating DeSmith for his team-leading 32nd goal.

It took three tries, but the Panthers finally got a win over the Penguins, who fell to the second wild card spot. Florida trails Pittsburgh by three points, as do the Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals, and has played two more games than Sidney & The Crosby “Kids.” The Cats will get two days off to rest and prep for Tuesday’s meeting with the Vegas Golden Knights.

Snares & Chinstraps

  • Big returns for centers Sam Bennett and Aleksander Barkov. Bennett, who missed the last six games, opened the scoring and registered a game-hit seven shots and three in hits in 14:52 TOI. Barkov, who was out for the last three, collected two helpers, five shots and a block while logging 19:55 of ice time.
  • Evgeni Malkin hit 40 assists for the 11th time in his career. Only Sidney Crosby (14) and Mario Lemieux (12) have had more 40-assist seasons for the Penguins.
  • Speaking of 40 assists, Brandon Montour two helpers got him to that plateau for the first time ever. Montour is up to a career-best 51 points this season.
  • Kris Letang became the sixth active defenseman to score 50 power-play goals, joining Brent Burns (82), Drew Doughty (71), Oliver Ekman-Larsson (58), Roman Josi (54) and Mark Giordano (52).
  • Aaron Ekblad became the ninth Panther to hit double-digit goals this season. It’s the eighth time he’s gotten to ten in nine seasons in the league.
  • Florida went 1-1-1 against Pittsburgh this season. Read more about it at PensBurgh./