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Panthers push past Pens 3-2

by Alain Poupart
SUNRISE, Fla. — Stephen Weiss found the perfect way to cap off a great all-around game.

Weiss scored a power-play goal with 3:30 left in regulation as the Florida Panthers beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 Saturday night for their first home victory in almost a month.

Weiss assisted on Florida's other two goals and led all players with five blocked shots. He also won 15 of 22 faceoffs.

"Stephen is really the guy that runs the engine right now," Florida coach Kevin Dineen said. "He does so many good things for us and tonight he needed to do it on the defensive side and then he had three points. He had a heck of a game for us."

Weiss' second point of the night, an assist on Tomas Fleischmann's goal, gave him 350 points for his career.

Brian Campbell also scored for the Panthers, Fleischmann added an assist and Kris Versteeg chipped in with two helpers.

The Panthers improved to 10-6-3 overall, their best 19-game record since 1999-2000 when they were 10-5-2-2 on the way to their most recent playoff berth. With Washington losing at Toronto, Florida took over sole possession of first place in the Southeast Division — the latest in a season the Panthers have been in first place since March 10, 2000.

But the victory was only the Panthers' third at home this season -- they snapped a four-game home losing streak (0-1-3) that began after a 4-2 victory against the New York Islanders on Oct. 22.

"It's huge," Weiss said of the home victory. "We've been decent on the road and not so great at home. The three shootout losses (at home) could have gone either way, but at the same time we've got to find a way to get two points at home. We were able to do that tonight against a real good hockey team."

With Pittsburgh a man short after being called for too many men on the ice, Weiss scored his game-winner after Versteeg tried to stuff the puck home from the side of the net. Weiss jammed home the rebound through a crowd in front of the net.

The goal was allowed after a review to determine whether Weiss had kicked the puck in.

"Steeger was jamming away at it and I was kind of off to the side and just moved in," Weiss said. "‘We were just swiping away and I guess it went in somehow. We were asking why they were reviewing it and  
(the official) said something about a kick. I was trying to tell him that I didn't kick it."

Fleischmann's goal also came on the power play, as the Panthers snapped an 0-for-18 drought.

The victory snapped the Panthers' five-game losing streak against Pittsburgh, which started when the teams first met last season.

Jose Theodore made 39 saves for his 20th career victory against Pittsburgh, his most against any opponent in the NHL. He is 20-5-3 in his career against the Penguins.

He came up with several big saves in the third period.

"Pittsburgh is a good team," Theodore said. "It was a 2-2 game and they kept coming, but we didn't panic. I thought it was really fun game to play. It was tight hockey, almost a playoff-type kind of game."

Chris Kunitz and Jordan Staal scored for the Penguins, who are still  without star center Sidney Crosby. Pascal Dupuis had two assists.

Staal hit the post less than a minute after his goal tied the game at 2-2 in the second period.

"He was leading the way, right from the shift he scored the goal on," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said of Staal. "He was our best performer tonight. At the halfway point of the game he took the team on his back — PK, power play, defensively, but also offensively. It was a big effort."

Brent Johnson, making his sixth start of the season in net for Pittsburgh, stopped 28 shots. He robbed Versteeg on a one-timer from the side of the net with less than eight minutes left in the third period to  
keep the game tied at 2-2.

"Johnny made the big save in the third there and he played really well tonight," Bylsma said. "He was a guy deserving of getting the win."

The Penguins went 0-2 on their sixth annual "Dads' Trip." Pittsburgh lost to Tampa Bay 4-1 on Thursday night.

This one might have been tougher to take, though, especially after the too-many-men penalty.

"It's part of the game," Johnson said. "If you go around to all these 22 guys in the dressing room I don't think there's anyone who tries to make that mistake. It's just one of those things that happens. It ruined a pretty good game up until that."

The Penguins kept the puck in the Florida zone in a frantic final minute and ended up outshooting the Panthers 41-31. It's the ninth consecutive game Pittsburgh has recorded at least 32 shots.

But the Penguins couldn't get the tying goal and have now lost back-to-back games in regulation for the first time since Oct. 15-17.

"It was a little bit of a scramble," Dineen said of the final  seconds. "But at the end of the day, there was a lot of battle and there was some areas where we'll have to continue to work at, but the  
desire to keep the puck out of the net was extremely strong by all six guys on the ice.

"I don't think our fans ever get cheated here at home. We always seem to make it entertaining."
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