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Panthers can reach .500 with a win over Penguins

by Brian Hunter /
PANTHERS (15-16-0) at PENGUINS (22-10-2)


Last 10:
Florida 6-4-0; Pittsburgh 8-2-0

Season series:
Second of four meetings. Chris Conner's first goal of the season with 7:04 left in the third period gave Pittsburgh a 3-2 win in Florida on Nov. 22. Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby also scored for the Penguins, while Cory Stillman and Bryan McCabe had the Panthers' goals.

Big story:
Both teams come off decisive victories Monday. Tomas Vokoun stopped 26 shots as Florida shut out Philadelphia on the road by a 5-0 score. Evgeni Malkin tied a career-high with 5 points in Pittsburgh's 6-1 rout of Phoenix.

Team Scope:

Panthers: By extending its winning streak to three games, Florida would get back to .500 for the season. The Panthers are the only team remaining in the NHL not to have lost a game that's gone beyond regulation. While that might sound like a good thing, the standings don't necessarily reflect it -- Florida has the same number of wins and one fewer overall loss than Carolina, for example, but because the Hurricanes have four shootout losses, they're ahead in the division. But the Panthers continue to show fight.

"We lost some tough games, but always came back strong against good teams," said Vokoun, who recorded his fourth shutout of the season against the Flyers and the 42nd of his career. "We have good character. We always get close to .500, then we have that one game when we could go on that winning side and we lose the game. We just have to get over that hump. If we play like we've been playing, anything is possible."

Red hot since returning from a knee injury, Malkin helped Pittsburgh get back on the winning side against Phoenix. He had scored all three of the Penguins' goals in consecutive losses to the Flyers and Rangers, and on Monday he registered 2 goals and 3 assists before the game was even halfway over. Malkin, Crosby and Letang all scored power-play goals and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 26 shots.

"He was playing unbelievable," Crosby said of Malkin. "It's really fun to see a teammate take over a game like that and when he is playing like that, I think he pushes everyone to raise their level. I was just trying to keep up with him and make sure that I was there to create things when he was open."

Who's hot:
Evgeny Dadonov (2-3-5), Marty Reasoner (2-2-4), McCabe (2-2-4), Stephen Weiss (1-3-4) and Shawn Matthias (1-3-4) all have three-game points streaks going for the Panthers. Vokoun has given up two goals or fewer in four of his last five starts.

Malkin has 5 goals and 3 assists during a three-game points streak for the Penguins, which pales slightly in comparison to Crosby's 21-game run, during which he has 21 goals and 21 assists. Fleury is on a 14-1-1 run and has given up two goals or fewer 13 times over that span.

Injury report:
Florida forwards Byron Bitz (sports hernia), Mark Cullen (Achilles), Rostislav Olesz (hand), Radek Dvorak (shoulder) and Stillman (back) are on injured reserve. … Pittsburgh forwards Jordan Staal (hand) and Mike Comrie (hip) are on injured reserve.

Stat pack:
The Panthers are 1-0 in overtime and 2-0 in shootouts this season. … Crosby's points streak is the third-longest in Penguins history, behind a pair by team owner Mario Lemieux.

Puck drop:
With the holiday break approaching and all 30 teams off Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, it's a hectic week for both Florida and Pittsburgh, both of whom play again Thursday to finish off a three-games-in-four-nights stretch. The Panthers are in Buffalo, while the Penguins travel to Washington for a much-anticipated preview matchup of the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, to be played New Year's Day at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

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