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Malkin, Hornqvist power Penguins past Panthers

by Wes Crosby

PITTSBURGH -- Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist each scored twice for the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 5-1 win against the Florida Panthers at Consol Energy Center on Sunday.

The Penguins were outplayed through two periods, but led 2-0. Defenseman Paul Martin scored Pittsburgh’s third goal 19 seconds into the third and put the game out of reach.

Sidney Crosby held the puck alone near the right boards and sent a cross-ice pass to Martin in the left faceoff circle. Martin placed a wrist shot through traffic and over Panthers goalie Al Montoya's glove to push Pittsburgh's lead to 3-0.

"Bits and pieces of tonight's game, I liked," Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. "I thought actually Florida had a lot of jump. Both teams arrived late last night. It’s a really tough back-to-back, them coming in from Ottawa and us coming over from St. Louis is almost the same flight arriving early in the morning on a back-to-back. I thought they had their legs early. I thought we got our legs later.

"They're a good young team, but really when you look at the game, what I liked about the game was our goals against, certainly. And we started to score. Our power play started to look dangerous. Those are positive signs."

With two wins in as many days, the Penguins (34-17-9) surpassed the Washington Capitals in the Metropolitan Division and are three points behind the division-leading New York Islanders.

Florida (26-21-12), which lost twice in as many days, fell three points back of the Boston Bruins for the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

"Guys in here realize that this time of year is when the men come out and the men play hockey," Panthers forward Scottie Upshall said. "Every play is magnified and games are won by one-goal games and it's the difference of one simple play. So you just have to be consistent and you have to realize the opportunity that it is."

Upshall scored the Panthers' lone goal with 7:37 remaining.

Pittsburgh began the season scoring a bulk of its goals from in or around the opposing crease, but hasn't executed that plan for a few months. The past two nights, the Penguins have shown glimpses of reestablishing their net-front presence.

After scoring a few dirty goals in a 4-1 win against the St. Louis Blues on Saturday, including a power-play goal from Hornqvist, Pittsburgh benefited from Hornqvist's tendency to cycle toward the net again on Sunday.

Hornqvist's second goal came on a power play, 3:53 into the third. Crosby backhanded a pass from behind the Panthers net to Hornqvist skating past the crease. Hornqvist whacked at the puck twice, making contact on his backhand with the second attempt, to give the Penguins a 4-0 lead.

Malkin scored his second goal of the game to extend the lead to 5-0, 9:06 into the third.

"It's not that we need to relax on the ice. It's that we need to relax in the locker room," Malkin said. "There's a lot of pressure on us. It's the media and everyone. We know how good we are. … We focus and play all 60 minutes and we played really well."

Penguins Defenseman Kris Letang set up Hornqivst's first goal in a similar fashion to how Crosby assisted his second. Letang pressured Panthers forward Tomas Kopecky and pushed him off of the puck before gaining possession and carrying it below the goal line. Letang slid a pass back into the Florida crease, with Hornqvist darting in, and he tipped a shot over Montoya for a 1-0 Penguins lead, 9:18 into the first period.

The Panthers took a 16-8 shot advantage into the first intermission, but faced a one-goal deficit.

Florida also carried the play throughout the second period, but again allowed the period's only goal. Malkin scored off of a Panthers turnover to give Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead entering the third period.

Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson passed the puck to center ice, where forward Jussi Jokinen was waiting along the boards. Jokinen tipped the puck back toward his own end, but to Malkin, who charged into the Panthers zone before backhanding a shot through Montoya's five-hole with 26.6 seconds remaining in the second.

Florida's best chances came from Brian Campbell and Jimmy Hayes a few minutes past the period’s midpoint.

Marc-Andre Fleury shrugged away a wrist shot from Campbell with 7:51 left in the second, but allowed a rebound for Hayes to collect. Fleury stopped Hayes' wrist shot seven seconds after Campbell's, and lost his balance while allowing a second rebound.

Hayes gathered his own rebound with Fleury stumbling his in his crease, but sent a shot a few inches wide of the net.

"The first 39 1/2 minutes, we played really good hockey," Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. "We had a lot of good chances to score and Fleury was the different, the first part of the game. Then, the second goal was a killer for us and then they get the third goal on the first shift of the third period and that was tough. I thought we played a good 40 minutes, but it's tough to lose like that."

Fleury, who made 34 saves, has allowed seven goals in his past seven starts.

"I felt pretty good," Fleury said. "I faced a few shots at the beginning, so it was good to get into it and it felt pretty good. … They're a team that's battling to make the playoffs every night and they need to come out hard, and they did. For me, I just tried to keep the team in the game, keep the game close and we got some big goals after that, so I could relax a little bit."

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