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Panthers beat Penguins in home opener

by Alain Poupart /
SUNRISE, Fla. - On a night when they celebrated their past, the Florida Panthers' future played a major role in winning their home opener.

Youngsters Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov scored power-play goals 1:06 apart in the second period to break a 2-2 tie and help the Panthers snap a three-game losing streak with a 6-3 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night.

The line of Barkov, the second player taken in the 2013 NHL Draft, Tomas Fleischmann and Brad Boyes combined for 10 points in the victory. Boyes had two goals and an assist; Fleischmann had a goal and three assists; and Barkov had a goal and two assists.

"It's amazing when you're 18 years old, it's like watching your kids," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said of Barkov. "There's just so much growth that happens quickly. For the first two weeks of the season, I think Sasha has really taken some real strides and what he does is he builds trust in us as a coaching staff and in his teammates as well. He played a heck of a game."

Dineen put that line together in the third period of a 7-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night and had it on the ice for the opening faceoff against Pittsburgh.

"All the skill he has is unbelievable," goalie Jacob Markstrom said of Barkov. "Sometimes it's not that fun for me in practice when he lights me up. I guess you've got to take that it's a good thing he's on my team. And Boyes has just been hot every game. He's got a great shot and he uses it."

Kris Versteeg added a goal and an assist for the Panthers, whose three losses included two games where they gave up seven goals.

Markstrom, who was pulled after giving up six goals in the loss to the Lightning, stopped 36 shots for his first victory of the season.

"It's a really good feeling," Markstrom said. "Even last night I felt good and I felt like me and the team, we didn't get out what we wanted to get out. It was a tough one, but the best thing about this League is we have to wait about 20 hours, then we've got a new game. It was really good for us that we had this home opener; the home crowd really pushed us. It was a really good first game at home."

Evgeni Malkin, Craig Adams and Pascal Dupuis scored for the Penguins, who lost their road opener after beginning the season with three home victories - all decided by three goals. Adams' goal was his third of the season, matching his total in 48 games last season.

The loss spoiled the NHL debut of goalie Jeff Zatkoff. The 26-year-old, a third-round pick by the Los Angeles Kings in 1996, Zatkoff finished with 24 saves.

"Obviously not the result I was looking for," Zatkoff said. "I felt good at the start and they just kept coming. I didn't make any big saves. I needed to make a big save there and didn't do it. I need to get better and make sure I'm ready for the next one."

The Panthers won their home opener for the fourth consecutive season. Pittsburgh had won its previous five road openers dating back to a 2-1 victory against the Boston Bruins in 2008-09.

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the franchise, the Panthers unveiled their new high-definition scoreboard at BB&T Center and displayed videos of memorable moments in team history for the crowd of 18,584. The festivities also included original captain Brian Skrudland and first-ever draft pick Rob Niedermayer.

The power-play goals by Huberdeau and Barkov were the first this season against the Penguins, who killed off six penalties in their victories against the New Jersey Devils, Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes.

Huberdeau, who won the Calder Trophy last season, broke a 2-2 tie at 7:08 of the second period during a 5-on-3 power play. Versteeg tried to beat Zatkoff with a short wrist shot from a sharp angle and the puck bounced off the goalie's chest. It appeared the puck would have gone in regardless, but Huberdeau made sure by batting it in from midair.

"We worked that play, and [me and Versteeg] got a switch and I think I got lucky," Huberdeau said in a television interview after the second intermission. "I didn't know if it was in and I just touched it, but I
guess it's a goal."

Barkov's goal at 8:14 came when his pass from behind the net went off the right leg of defenseman Paul Martin and trickled through the legs of Zatkoff. It was the second goal of the season for Barkov.

Dupuis cut into the lead at 12:13 after taking a drop pass from Sidney Crosby, who has a point in every game, to the right of Markstrom and beating the goaltender from a sharp angle.

Fleischmann restored Florida's two-goal lead at 6:27 of the third with a strong individual effort. After Zatkoff stopped his wrist shot, Fleischmann battled through defenseman Brooks Orpik to put home the rebound.

Boyes scored the final goal with 34 seconds left, one second after Crosby finished serving an interference penalty. It was Boyes' fourth goal in three games.

"Right now I'm definitely feeling good," said Boyes, who signed with the Panthers after first attending training camp on a tryout basis. "It's about opportunities and when you get them, capitalize on them. That's something when things go well and you're scoring the goals like I was in years past, you're getting those bounces and pucks are finding you. It's been good that it's been happening so far."

After falling behind 2-0 in the first period in their past two games, the Panthers took the lead 1:55 into the game after the Penguins turned the puck over just inside their blue line. Boyes took a feed from Fleischmann and beat Zatkoff with a wrist shot from the right side that went high to the glove side.

"He had his first start in the National Hockey league and it's not the opportunities we want to have him to face in the first period," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said of Zatkoff. "Then it came down to the 5-on-3, a poor angle shot that squeaks in there, Paul Martin, it bounces off the foot and goes in there. We gave them as many opportunities as we had the first three games."

Malkin tied the game at 5:38 with his first goal of the season when he beat Markstrom on a 2-on-1 with a wrist shot to the blocker side.

Versteeg gave Florida the lead again at 9:10 with a one-timer from the right faceoff dot off a feed from Scott Gomez. Adams tied it again at 16:49 when he outmuscled two Panthers to poke in a rebound after a wraparound attempt by Tanner Glass.

"Being their home opener, not having a great game last game, we all expected they would come hard," Crosby said. "They didn't surprise us and we didn't take them lightly at all. We didn't execute well."

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