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Crosby scores, Penguins battle by Panthers

by Wes Crosby

PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby scored his first goal since missing three games with the mumps, and the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Florida Panthers 3-1 at Consol Energy Center on Saturday.

Crosby, standing to the left of the Florida net, tipped a pass from Kris Letang past goalie Roberto Luongo to give the Penguins a 3-1 lead 7:01 into the third period.

"It's nice to finally put one in," said Crosby, who last scored Nov. 24, a span of nine games. "It was a nice play by [Letang] and he made that whole play happen. Bringing guys to him and then a great pass. So, it's nice to see one go in."

Marc-Andre Fleury won his 19th game of the season, two behind Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne for the NHL lead, by making 45 saves, 12 in the third period. With Pittsburgh leading 2-1, Fleury stopped Florida's best chance at tying the game 2:05 into the third.

Panthers forward Dave Bolland fanned on a shot in front of the Penguins crease, which caused Fleury to slide out of position to the right. Bolland collected the puck and backhanded it on net, but Fleury made a right-pad save to preserve a one-goal lead.

"I think there were a few chances [for the Panthers to score]," Fleury said. "Especially in the third, I think they came close a few times, but other than that, I thought it was just throwing pucks in and having people in front. I think that's what makes it tough, when you have to find the pucks through people."

Fleury made another set of impressive saves 2:58 later when he stopped a wrist shot from Tomas Fleischmann, then bit on a rebound attempt from Bolland and sprawled to make a save on Jussi Jokinen before the puck was cleared from the crease.

The Panthers (14-9-8) outshot the Penguins 46-34. Florida and Pittsburgh meet again Monday at BB&T Center.

"If we play like that every night, I think we win more games that we lose," Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. "So I was really happy with our group tonight. They competed, they battled hard and did a lot of really good things. … They're a great team and they're leading our conference.

"We want another crack at them."

Pittsburgh (22-6-4) held a 2-1 lead after a contentious first period that was highlighted by defenseman Derrick Pouliot's goal in his NHL debut.

Steve Downie sent a cross-ice pass to Pouliot waiting alone in the right faceoff circle. Pouliot placed a wrist shot over Luongo's glove and into the upper-right corner of the net to give Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead 6:56 into the period.

Pouliot, who was recalled from the American Hockey League on Saturday because defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Paul Martin are out with undisclosed injuries, leads Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with 20 points in 23 games. Pouliot scored five goals in his past seven AHL games.

"It's incredible. You dream about that moment happening" Pouliot said. "So it was very exciting. Good to get the win and to get the first goal too."

The Panthers responded with a goal from Pittsburgh native Vincent Trocheck 25 seconds later. Trocheck tipped a wrist shot from Jonathan Huberdeau for a power-play goal that cut Pittsburgh's lead to 2-1, 7:31 into the first.

Trocheck was a healthy scratch in Florida's past two games.

"It was a tough-fought battle and we played better than the outcome," Trocheck said. "I thought we deserved a win there. We deserved a little bit better. It got a little chippy, but we responded really well to everything they threw at us and we just didn't get the bounces."

Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin each had an opportunity to score the third Penguins goal with about 7:09 remaining in the period, but after Kunitz backhanded a shot off of the left post, Malkin hit a rebound off the same post.

Nick Spaling started the scoring when he fluttered a wrist shot over Luongo's blocker 1:48 into the game. Luongo attempted to reach across his body, but the puck glided past the tip of his glove and into the back of the net.

"I thought we battled hard. It felt like a playoff game tonight," Luongo said. "I think the first period did us in. I have to be better than that, obviously, on the first goal, even though it knuckled in. I have to find a way to stop that and I can't allow that right off the hop."

Crosby temporarily left the game after being slashed by Bolland behind the Penguins net about 14:00 into the first period. Crosby immediately removed his left glove and skated toward the bench. He returned a few minutes later and drove in on Luongo for a backhand attempt in his first shift back.

The teams combined for 15 penalties and 38 penalty minutes during the period.

The tension didn't die at the start of the second, with an additional 32 penalty minutes, but Florida was the only team to score a power-play goal. The Penguins, who once led the NHL on the man-advantage while converting at a rate above 40 percent, failed to score on five chances through the first two periods, six in all.

Pittsburgh's power play is ranked third in the League at 24.3 percent. The Penguins played four defensemen who are 23 years old or younger, and Pittsburgh coach Mike Johnston complimented their effort given the added emphasis on special teams.

"I thought Florida pushed us really hard and I thought those guys responded well," Johnston said. "Pouliot was in that group, but you look at [Scott] Harrington's job defensively and [Brian] Dumoulin's job, it was a hard game to play for them, because there was a lot of special-teams work."

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