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Penguins beat Panthers 3-1

by Chris Adamski

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins earned a victory Friday night. They're hoping they didn't suffer a devastating loss in the process.

Matt Niskanen and Dustin Jeffrey had third-period goals as the Penguins beat the Florida Panthers 3-1. But Pittsburgh star Evgeni Malkin wasn't around to celebrate the win -- he left the ice after crashing into the boards early in the third period. There was no immediate update on his condition, although he did skate off the ice under his own power after lying on the ice for more than a minute.

"He's getting further evaluated this evening; we'll know more tomorrow," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.

Niskanen broke a 1-1 tie about three minutes after Malkin left the game with a goal at 7:49. Niskanen one-timed a pass from Kris Letang while he stood just to the left of the center point not long after a Penguins power play had expired. His slap shot beat Panthers rookie goalie Jacob Markstrom high to the glove side for his second goal in as many games.

Jeffrey, a healthy scratch for nine of the previous 10 games, added an insurance goal with 4:45 left when he finished a nifty setup from Matt Cooke for his first of the season.

Chris Kunitz scored earlier in the game and Marc-Andre Fleury made 22 saves for Pittsburgh, which rebounded from a home loss to the rival Philadelphia Flyers two days earlier to win for the fourth time in five games.

"Coming off that game it would have been easy to have a letdown emotionally; it was a pretty intense game," captain Sidney Crosby said. "Everyone responded pretty well, and we're happy with the result."

Mike Weaver scored for the first time in more than two years and Markstrom was sharp in making his first NHL start of the season for Florida, which was outshot 40-23 in losing its eighth consecutive visit to Pittsburgh.

The Panthers' 5-2 win at Philadelphia on Thursday remains their only victory in their past seven games, but the loss to the Penguins was only Florida's second in regulation in its past six.

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen believed his team played well enough to win, but he was unhappy with the officiating.

"It's frustrating," Dineen said. "I think the tempo was big, and it was decided on the penalty at the end, there's a non-call on us when their guy attacks Gudbranson after a clean hit. And then they scored a goal when they whack at a goalie three times, our guy goes down and he doesn't blow the whistle. It's really disappointing. But that's the nature of it. You have to understand where your place is and just go out and play the game."

The game was scoreless until Weaver scored his first goal since Jan. 25, 2011. The veteran defenseman recorded his fifth point in the past four games when his shot from the point made it through Fleury at 8:25 of the second period. Rookie Jonathan Huberdeau provided a screen, and the 19-year-old initially was credited with getting a piece of Weaver's shot. What would have been his NHL rookie-best ninth goal -- and third in a 24-hour span -- was changed to Weaver during the second intermission.

The Panthers came in having lost only once in regulation all season after scoring first, but Kunitz tied the game 2:16 after Weaver's goal. Kunitz, who has 16 points in 11 February games, was rewarded after repeatedly poking at a loose puck while he stood among a scrum in the slot -- taking an elbow from Weaver after the puck crossed the goal line.

"I'm not sure if we win tonight if we don't get a goal like that," Bylsma said. "We might not get a goal in this game if it's not for him going to the cage and getting that kind of goal."

The tally extended Pittsburgh's streak of consecutive games with a power-play goal to 10.

Fleury won his fourth consecutive start to move into a tie for the League lead in victories with nine. The Penguins (12-6-0) tied the New Jersey Devils and Montreal Canadiens atop the Eastern Conference standings with 24 points.

Markstrom, one of the Panthers' top prospects, was recalled from the organization's American Hockey League affiliate earlier this week. The 23-year-old was under siege for much of the game -- the Penguins held a heavy advantage in attack-zone time and puck possession, and had a season-high for shots -- but he kept Florida in the game.

Among Markstrom's better saves were a glove stop on Brandon Sutter's backhander during a power play midway through the first period and denying a Kunitz rebound attempt during a 3-on-2 with about 3 1/2 minutes to play in the second.

"He was pretty solid, he played pretty composed," Fleury said of the 6-foot-6 rookie. "Such a big guy too, and he moves well also. He's got a good future."

The Penguins, who improved to 19-2-1 at home against Southeast Division teams over the past three seasons, have won 16 of their past 21 against the Panthers. Malkin and Letang each extended point streaks to four games, but Crosby was held scoreless for only the fifth time this season.

Pittsburgh improved to 11-1-0 when scoring three or more goals and 9-0-0 when allowing two or fewer. The Penguins also lead the NHL with 42 points from their defensemen and are tops in the Eastern Conference with 60 goals; Malkin has had a hand in more than one-third of those.

Rookie Beau Bennett was on the ice when Malkin was injured.

"I didn't even see it ... but I did hear it," he said. "You never want to see it, especially with a guy like him. But hopefully it's not too bad."

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