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Kopecky nets hat trick as Panthers fend off Penguins

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Tomas Kopecky says he enjoys doing the dirty work. He likes it even more when his effort pays off the way it did Tuesday night.

By getting in front of the net, Kopecky sparked a Florida Panthers power play that finally came to life and led the way for a 6-4 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Kopecky had two of the Panthers' four goals with the man advantage before completing his first career hat trick with an empty-netter. For good measure, he added an assist to tie his career high of four points.

"I probably learned from one of the best in the League," Kopecky said, referring to former Detroit teammate Tomas Holmstrom. "It's a fun part. Sometimes you get under other guys' skin. Somebody's got to do it and I love it. I've got no problem with it."

Kopecky clearly had the Penguins frustrated after he scored his second goal in the second period. Pittsburgh forward Craig Adams cross-checked him in the back right after the goal, knocking Kopecky into goalie Tomas Vokoun.

Vokoun reacted by punching Kopecky, who quickly got up and confronted Vokoun. Before long, all players on the ice except Panthers goalie Jose Theodore were scuffling. In the end, five penalties were called, including two on Kopecky and one on Vokoun for roughing.

Kopecky, who had scored two goals five previous times in his career, recorded Florida's first hat trick since Kris Versteeg did it in a 5-2 victory against the Winnipeg Jets on Nov. 10, 2011.

"One is an empty net but the other goals are scored within three feet of the net," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "That's where he has to play the game to be most effective. When he takes the cute out of his game, he's an extremely effective player. He was a big, big player for us tonight. We have some, you call them holes in our lineup, but there's also a lot of guys that are ready to step up, and (number) 82 was certainly one of them tonight."

Kopecky has six goals in his last six games and eight on the season, almost matching his total of 10 in 80 games last season.

Thanks in large part to Kopecky's work, the Panthers were 4-for-7 on the power play after going 0-for-17 in their last five home games and 1-for-23 in their last eight overall.

"It's been a couple of weeks here that we haven't been able to generate much on the power play, so it was good for our group to go out there," Dineen said. "When things start happening for you, it makes our job a lot easier and the guys go out there, they feel good about themselves and make quality plays. Probably more than anything, the way we zipped that puck around on that first one, I think was a good insight into what was coming."

Kopecky was one of several offensive stars for the Panthers, who snapped a five-game home losing streak and won for only the second in nine games overall. Another was forward Tomas Fleischmann, who had two assists and broke a 4-4 tie at 3:29 of the third period.

The goal, the 100th of Fleischmann's career, came on a 2-on-1 after he came out of the penalty box, took a long pass and beat Marc-Andre Fleury with a wrist shot to the stick side.

"I was really sweating there in the penalty box because I didn't want them to score," Fleischmann said. "It was a pretty good battle there in the corner when I jumped on the ice and the puck came to me. I was thinking to pass it to Shoresy (Drew Shore) for a breakaway, but the D-man left me alone. So I walked down, shot it and it went in."

Defenseman Brian Campbell also had a goal and two assists. The goal was Campbell's fifth of the season, all on the power play.

Marcel Goc also scored on the power play for Florida, his first goal in 13 games this season.

The victory evened the season series after the Penguins won 3-1 in Pittsburgh on Friday night. Penguins star forward Evgeni Malkin sustained a concussion in that game and missed Tuesday's rematch.

Scott Clemmensen got the victory after replacing a shaky Theodore at the start of the third period and stopping all 15 shots he faced. Theodore, making his first start in eight days, gave up four goals on 19 shots.

"We're always trying to give ourselves the best chance to win," Dineen said. "Theo didn't look like he was on top of his game there tonight. It was a tough second period for him, so Clem was the right guy to go in there for the third."

The Panthers, already dealing with a rash of injuries, were without center Stephen Weiss, who missed the game to attend his grandmother's funeral.

James Neal, Dustin Jeffrey, Paul Martin and Chris Kunitz scored for the Penguins, who lost for only the second time in seven games. Sidney Crosby had two assists as he tied Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning for the NHL scoring lead with 30 points.

"Most of the penalties were penalties, they were probably the result of the way we were playing," Crosby said. "We have to do a better job of staying out of the box. That's pretty clear. Besides that, we didn't really deserve to win, even without taking those penalties."

Vokoun got the start in net against his former team but was gone after Goc's goal at 8:54 of the second period gave Florida a 4-1 lead. He ended up stopping 18 of the 22 shots he faced.

Fleury replaced Vokoun and stopped 12 of 13 shots.

Vokoun, who started for the Panthers from 2008-11, was 3-0 against Florida last season while with Washington, allowing only one goal on 85 shots.

"It was an onslaught on Tomas," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "He saw the power play repeatedly and the 5-on-3 went in. It was more of a situation where the team needed a change rather than the goaltender needed a change."

After Kopecky's second goal at 3:22 of the second gave Florida a 2-1 lead, the Panthers were on a power play when Pittsburgh was called for a delayed penalty. Before the Penguins could touch the puck, Campbell beat Vokoun with a slap shot from just inside the left circle to make 3-1.

After Goc made it 4-1 on the ensuing power play, the Penguins began their comeback 57 seconds later when Jeffrey beat Theodore with a seemingly harmless wrist shot from the top of the left circle. The puck slipped between Theodore's body and his left arm.

Martin made it 4-3 at 14:08 with a one-timer from the top of the right circle before Kunitz tied the game with 40.1 seconds left in the period with a lucky power-play goal.

After Crosby stopped a clearing attempt near the boards deep in the Florida zone, he fed Kunitz, whose centering pass went off the skate of defenseman Mike Weaver and past Theodore.

The goal marked the 12th consecutive game with at least one power-play goal for the Penguins, their longest streak since February 2008 when they had a 13-game run.

"It's disappointing," Crosby said. "We just have to work, it's pretty clear. We did a good job of sticking with it and trying to get back in the game but it didn't go that way."

Kopecky's goal 13:57 into the game gave Florida a 1-0 lead heading into the first intermission, only the fourth time in 20 games this season Pittsburgh trailed after one period.

"I loved playing in it," Campbell said of the game. "It's a great test. We're a desperate team, we needed it. We can fold up and go out there and not compete, but there's a lot of fight in this team. We've got a ways to go, but we're working on getting better."

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