|PIT||2||2||1||(0 - 0)||5|
|FLA||0||0||1||(0 - 0)||1|
TIME: Friday, 7:30 p.m. EDT.
The Panthers squandered a chance to move into ninth place in the Eastern Conference, losing 5-2 at home Wednesday to the Atlanta Thrashers. Florida, which had a franchise record-tying five-game home winning streak snapped, is in 11th place with six games remaining.
"We didn't have a whole lot of hope left, but there was still a little bit," said Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo, who had 29 saves. "Obviously, after tonight it would take a major miracle, so there's nothing we can do about it but keep fighting and play hard the rest of the year."
The Panthers, though, can make up some ground against a struggling Penguins team they have dominated recently. Florida has won 12 straight games against Pittsburgh since a 6-5 overtime loss March 5, 2002, and has taken at least one point in the last 15.
The Panthers have won seven straight home games over the Penguins, who have an Eastern Conference-low nine road wins.
Luongo - who shares the Panthers franchise record for wins at 109 with John Vanbiesbrouck - has won 11 straight games over the Penguins, posting a 1.81 goals-against average and three shutouts in that span. He is 7-2 with a 2.96 GAA at Bank Atlantic Center since March 8.
Panthers center Olli Jokinen had his only hat trick of the season Nov. 25 against the Penguins and has 10 goals and 10 assists during Florida's winning streak over Pittsburgh. Jokinen, though, has just one goal in his last eight games.
Pittsburgh has lost three of its last four games, including a 6-4 defeat Wednesday to New Jersey. Sidney Crosby scored his 35th goal of the season on the first shot of the game, but the Penguins allowed five goals over the next 32 minutes.
"It was good that we were able to come out strong," said Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who finished with 21 saves. "Getting that first goal was big but there was still a lot of time to be played, and the Devils kept coming at the net."
Crosby has a three-game goal-scoring streak but has been limited to one goal in three games against the Panthers. Fleury, who is 0-2 with a 6.09 GAA against the Panthers this season, has a 5.44 GAA during a personal four-game losing streak.
STANDINGS: Penguins - 51 points, 5th place, 47 PB, Atlantic Division. Panthers - 77 points, 4th place, 29 PB, Southeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Penguins - Crosby, 35 goals, 52 assists and 87 points; Brooks Orpik, 114 PIM. Panthers - Jokinen, 34 goals, 46 assists and 80 points; Chris Gratton, 98 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Penguins - Power play: 18.5 percent (84 for 455), 10th (tied) in NHL. Penalty killing: 78.0 percent (382 for 490), 30th. Panthers - Power play: 15.1 percent (58 for 383), 25th (tied). Penalty killing: 82.9 percent (393 for 474), 14th.
GOALTENDERS: Penguins - Fleury (11-26-6, 1 SO, 3.39 GAA); Sebastien Caron (7-7-4, 1, 3.98). Panthers - Luongo (33-29-9, 4, 2.96); Jamie McLennan (1-4-0, 0, 2.95).
SEASON SERIES: Panthers, 3-0.
LAST MEETING: March 29; Panthers 5-3. At Pittsburgh, Luongo stopped 31 shots as the Panthers won a franchise-record record seventh straight game.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Penguins - 9-22-5 on the road; Panthers - 23-10-4 at home.