"We had a lot of games in overtime lately, so it was good to get a regulation win," Panthers winger Jonathan Huberdeau said. "It's just good to get some points early. That's what we want. Especially before going on a long road trip, it was good to get two points at home."
Following a scoreless first period, Noel Acciari broke the ice in the second, scoring on a shot that bounced off Matt Murray and into the net to put the Panthers up 1-0 at 10:54. But just 1:03 later, Teddy Blueger answered for the Penguins, beating Sergei Bobrovsky to make it 1-1 at 11:57.
"A big game to win," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "A tight first period, and scoring first obviously helped… Having the lead, I thought we did some good things."
In the third period, Huberdeau tipped in a shot to push the lead up to 3-1 at 13:42 before Patric Hornqvist brought the Penguins right back within one just 43 seconds later with a goal at 14:25.
With 1:03 remaining in regulation, Frank Vatrano made it 4-2 with an empty-net goal.
Video: PIT@FLA: Vatrano scores empty-netter to seal win
"I thought we stayed composed and play well in the defensive zone," Huberdeau said of Florida's effort in the third period. "We got that lead, and then the empty-netter was huge."
Murray finished with 18 saves, while Bobrovsky stopped 23.
"It's a process," said Bobrovsky, who improved to 3-2-2, said of his progress early on in the season.
"I would say it goes forward and up, which is a good thing. It's slowly, but you can't force it. You have to go naturally, be yourself, work every day and do your things to get better."
Florida now sits at 4-2-3 and is in a playoff spot for the first time this season.
"We've got lots of work ahead of us," Bobrovsky said. "The points and win are obviously a big step for confidence and to bring the team together, but on the other hand it's a long season and we've got so much work to do."
Here are five takeaways from Tuesday's win in Sunrise…
1. NOEL NETS ANOTHER
This is why coaches always tell you to just put pucks on net.
With the game still scoreless, Acciari ripped a shot on net from just below the blue line. Making the initial stop, Murray batted the puck straight up into the air before it fell back down, bounced off his back and went to the net to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead at 10:54 of the second period.
The other two members of the club's fourth line, Dryden Hunt and Colton Sceviour, picked up the assists on the play, giving the fiery trio a combined three goals and six assists this season.
Video: PIT@FLA: Acciari scores on wild bounce off Murray
"It's always good to get the first one," Huberdeau said of Acciari's goal. "I think we stuck to the game plan and we played well."
Joining the Panthers on a three-year deal this summer, Acciari has been steadily contributing in every area of the game to start the season. He's not only chipped in three goals, but is also tied for the team-lead in blocked shots (14) and ranks second behind only Hunt in hits (20).
2. MALGIN GETS MORE
After two early-season scratches, Malgin has settled into a groove.
Locked in a 1-1 game with time winding down in the second period, the 22-year-old forward took a beautiful feed from Huberdeau, who forced a turnover to start the play, and buried a one-timer from the bottom of the left circle to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead at 18:00 of the middle frame.
Video: PIT@FLA: Malgin nets one-timer from the circle
"He's been really good so far this year," Huberdeau said of Malgin. "He's a sneaky guy. He scores some big goals… When you give him the puck, he's not going to miss."
Malgin has now recorded at least one point in five of his last six games, including goals in back-to-back contests. Through six games this season, he's posted three goals and three assists.
"Malgy's been really good," Quenneville said. "I think that with his speed in the middle of the ice, when he has the puck he can put in quiet areas where suddenly somethings coming from the top end or at the net. He's finding those areas, whether he's a threat to shoot or make a play."
3. LEADER IN THE CLUBHOUSE
Huberdeau gained sole possession of the team-scoring lead tonight.
With an assist on Malgin's goal already in his back pocket, the 26-year-old winger lit the lamp himself in the third period, tipping in a long shot from Anton Stralman past Murray to extend Florida's lead to 3-1 with 6:18 left in regulation - a crucial insurance goal late in the game.
Video: PIT@FLA: Huberdeau tips shot from point past Murray
"He's dangerous," Quenneville said of Huberdeau. "I think he's one of those guys that is a threat to score every time he's on the ice. I just think that, defensively, if we do the right things we'll be even better."
Finishing the night with a goal and an assist, Huberdeau now leads the team with 10 points (four goals, six assists). The 26-year-old winger has managed to get onto the scoresheet in seven of nine games to start the season, including three multi-point performances after tonight's effort. In 2018-19, he set a franchise record with 31 multi-point games.
"Obviously the points are coming," Huberdeau said. "I thought tonight was a little bit better. Lately I've been struggling a little bit, but I just want to help our team win. I want to be a leader out there. Every time I'm out there on the ice I want to be good in the offensive zone as much as possible."
4. OUT OF ACTION
The Panthers were missing two of their top stars tonight.
Aaron Ekblad (illness) and Vincent Trocheck (upper-body) were both scratched against the Penguins. Entering the night, Ekblad, who is one game away from 400 for his career, led the team and ranked sixth in the league in average ice time per game (25:20), while also leading Florida's defenseman in assists with five. Trocheck, meanwhile, had accumulated six points.
Quenneville said he was happy with how other players stepped up in their absence.
"That what it's all about," he said. "I think guys look for those opportunities. Eventually they're going to come, and you want to take advantage of them when they do arrive. It's on a need-basis, but today was one of those days that a lot of different things happened. I thought the guys adapted and handled it well."
5. HEADING NORTH
The Panthers are packing their bags and heading north.
Traveling to Canada for the first time in the regular season, the team will kick off a long four-game trip on Thursday in Calgary, with stops in Edmonton, Vancouver and Colorado to follow after that.
Florida has gained at least one point in five road games this season, going 2-1-2.
"It's an important trip for us in some really tough places," Quenneville said. "We want to make sure that we take care of business here at home. I think that was a real positive coming out of today's game… Let's go into this trip knowing each and every night that we're going to look to get some points."
The Panthers won't play another game on home ice until hosting Detroit on Nov. 2.
BONUS: BOYLE'S DEBUT
After signing a one-year contract with the Panthers on Sunday, Brian Boyle made his debut and produced three shots, three blocks and one hit while skating 14:07 against the Penguins tonight.
"I think he did fine," Quenneville said of Boyle, who registered 24 points (18 goals, six assists) in 73 games split between Nashville and New Jersey last season. "Right away, you could feel him as part of the team, being one of the guys and adapting to the way we want to play."