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Penguins beat Panthers 4-1 to snap six-game slide

by Alain Poupart
SUNRISE, Fla. -- It was a great day all around for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Hours after Sidney Crosby skated for the first time in more than a month, the Penguins snapped their six-game losing streak by beating the Florida Panthers 4-1 and helped coach Dan Bylsma move past Michel Therrien into sole possession of second place in Penguins history with his 136th victory.

"We were stuck on that one for a while," said Bylsma; he now trails only Eddie Johnston, who recorded 232 victories behind the Pittsburgh bench.

Evgeni Malkin and Tyler Kennedy scored in a span of 1:11 between the end of the second period and the start of the third to give Pittsburgh a comfortable 3-0 lead in front of 18,658 at the BankAtlantic Center. Steve Sullivan and James Neal also scored for the Penguins, whose losing streak was their longest since 2005-06.

"It's obviously a good feeling to get out of a slump like that," Neal said. "It's been a long time since a win. It feels good, but we did the right things leading up to this game to get this win. We've got to keep going, keep doing the right things and stay on the right track."

The Penguins, who hadn't won since beating Carolina 4-2 on Dec. 27, also got a solid goaltending performance from Marc-Andre Fleury. He made 25 saves, including a couple from close range against Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann while the Penguins were nursing a 1-0 lead in the second period.

"On the bench, you could feel it that you just got two big saves from your goaltender," Bylsma said. "I think that really buoyed us. Those were longer shifts, pretty good shifts by their team. Once we were able to get the second one, I think we really cashed in on those two big saves by Flower."

Fleury, though, wasn't nearly as busy as Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen. With Pittsburgh outshooting Florida 41-26, Clemmensen kept the score close for more than half the game.

Clemmensen, making his third start in four games with Jose Theodore sidelined with a knee injury, kept the game scoreless while his team was getting outshot 18-6 in the first period and ended up with 37 saves.

"He played a great game for us," defenseman Ed Jovanovski said of Clemmensen. "When they're coming in waves and waves at you and shot after shot after shot, one of them is bound to go in. He definitely held the fort for us in the first period maybe giving us an opportunity in here to regroup and have some sort of push-back. It  wasn't there."

Michal Repik scored for Florida, which lost at home in regulation for only the third time in its last 14 (9-3-2).

"One thing we've done this year is given our fans an entertaining brand of hockey, and given them a lot of enthusiasm in this building," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "I've heard the stories that the other team has fans, and I don't think they had a lot here tonight, but we certainly gave them a ton of things to cheer about.  

"For the most part, that was one of our most incomplete efforts of the year."

The victory was Pittsburgh's ninth in 11 meetings with the Panthers during the past three seasons. The Penguins beat Florida 4-2 in the first week of the season before the Panthers snapped a five-game losing streak in the series with a 3-2 victory at home in November.

With the loss, the Panthers saw their lead in the Southeast Division drop to two points over Washington, which beat Tampa Bay 4-2 on Friday night. The Panthers, who haven't made the playoffs since the 1999-2000 season, have been in first place since that Nov. 19 victory against Pittsburgh.

Florida's top line of Weiss, Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg went scoreless for the fourth consecutive game, their longest drought of the season. Fleischmann fanned on two great chances, a one-timer in the slot in the first period and after receiving a pass at the side of the net with Fleury out of position.

On the other side, It was the first time in six games the Penguins scored more than one goal — though they needed a little luck to do it.

Sullivan opened the scoring at 1:49 of the second period after Clemmensen misplayed the puck behind the net. Clemmensen started to fire the puck hard around the boards before trying to stop his motion. But the puck slid away from him; Matt Cooke grabbed the errant pass and fed it in front to Sullivan, who put it home as Clemmensen tried to get back into the net.

Malkin's goal with 34.8 seconds left in the second period came after Clemmensen made a blocker save on his slap shot on a 2-on-1 rush. Malkin retrieved the rebound behind the net and whipped a backhand toward the net; the puck bounced in off Clemmensen.

"Maybe we needed to get a little bit of a miscue and a fortunate goal to get us started, to get us on the right track after the first period," Bylsma said. "I know you'd like one of those to go in to gain on how you're playing. Maybe we needed a goal like Sully's to get us on the positive side."

The lucky bounces made up for some bad luck in the first period when the Penguins hit the post three times. Neal hit both posts on the same power play, and Chris Kunitz's backhand deke on a breakaway hit the crossbar after it went off Clemmensen's stick.

Kennedy scored 36 seconds into the third period on a wrist shot from just inside the right circle.

"It's all building up to playing good hockey and doing the right things," Neal said. "It was good getting that first goal with Sully there. We kept shooting the puck and good things happen when you shoot the puck."

Repik spoiled Fleury's attempt to tie Tom Barrasso's franchise record with a 22nd career shutout when he tipped in Jason Garrison's hard pass from the point. But Neal closed out the scoring with his team-leading 22nd goal at 15:43 of the third with a wrist shot from the left faceoff dot.

"They kept coming at us hard all night long, right from the start," Clemmensen said. "They were a desperate team, they played desperate, they worked hard, they outworked us for the most part all night long. Give them credit. They outworked us, and they deserved to win tonight."

In doing so, the Penguins put the capper on a most satisfying day.
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