|David Booth's goal gave Florida goalie Craig Anderson some breathing room in net en route to the third straight win, a 5-2 victory over Pittsburgh for the Panthers.
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Anderson came into Florida’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins off back-to-back 1-0 shutouts in which he stopped all 93 shots he faced. He wasn’t as good against the Pens, allowing two goals on 27 shots, but his teammates gave him more help this time, jumping out to a quick 2-0 lead in a 5-2 victory Thursday night at BankAtlantic Center.
''You want your best games at the end of the year when you're getting that playoff push,'' Anderson said after both he and the Panthers made it three straight victories. ''You want to be playing your best hockey. Look at other teams that were playing good at the start of the year. They're kind of fading off right now, but we want to continue to play strong.''
Florida remained seven points behind Southeast Division-leading Carolina and four points in back of eighth-place Philadelphia, both of which won Thursday night.
“I wish we had made up some ground,” coach Jacques Martin said. “But we can’t control that. We just have to win our games.“
Anderson stopped 53 shots against the New York Islanders and 40 against Boston. However, his bid for a third consecutive shutout ended on Pittsburgh’s second shot of the game, when Ryan Malone banged in a rebound. But by then, the Panthers already had taken the game’s first nine shots and grabbed a 2-0 lead.
David Booth opened the scoring at 4:19, beating Marc-Andre Fleury with a quick wrist shot from the slot to finish a three-way passing play. Rostislav Olesz’s tip-in at 4:58 doubled the lead as Florida matched its entire offensive output in the previous two-plus games, covering 134:20, in a span of 39 seconds.
''We just didn't come out the right way and we definitely paid for it,'' said Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby. ''This time of year, you can't afford to do that.''
Anderson’s run of consecutive saves ended at 106 when Malone scored.
''Once they scored, it was actually a big weight off my chest,'' Anderson said. ''There was a little bit of pressure there.''
Stephen Weiss restored the Panthers’ two-goal lead when he corralled a rebound, skated around Fleury and backhanded the puck into an empty net at 17:54.
The Penguins changed goaltenders to start the second period, but Brett McLean scored his 11th at 3:34 of the second period, beating Ty Conklin. Kris Letang's knuckling shot beat Anderson to make it 4-2 midway at 9:02. Crosby, playing his second game after missing six-plus weeks with a high ankle sprain, assisted on the goal — his only point of the night.
“I’m a little tired,” said Crosby, who has two assists since returning. “I’m just not sharp right now.”
Crosby had a great chance to get Pittsburgh within 4-3 with 5:50 left in the second when he skated in alone on Anderson, but he couldn't get a shot off.
"I think he was scared of my poke-check," Anderson said.
Anderson stopped all eight shots he faced in the third period before Bryan Allen’s empty-netter with 51.8 seconds remaining sealed the Panthers’ third straight win.
“He did a good job,” Crosby said of Anderson. “We hit him with some pucks. There were some rebounds there. I think we have a lot of talent, and if we’re playing well, we’re going to score some goals no matter who’s in there.”
Despite the loss, the Penguins remained in first place in the Atlantic Division, one point ahead of New Jersey, which has two games in hand.
The Panthers are off until Saturday, when they host Atlanta in the second game of a seven-game homestand. The question for Martin is whether he’ll ride the hot goaltender or go back to starter Tomas Vokoun, an All-Star.
“We’ll see,” he said when asked about Saturday’s starter. “We’ll make the decision in due time.”
Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report.