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Endgame: Penguins 4, Panthers 1

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

4 - 1
FINAL 1 2 3 T
0 2 2 4
PANTHERS 0 0 1 1

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Post Game: Marc-Andre Fleury
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Penguins Report: Game Day at Florida

Rewarded and relieved.

That’s how the Penguins feel following a 4-1 victory over the Florida Panthers at BankAtlantic Center Friday night that snapped a six-game losing streak.

“It’s a good feeling to get over a slump like that,” forward James Neal said. “It’s been a long time since a win. It feels good. We did the right things leading up to this game to get the win. We have to keep going, keep doing the right things and stay on the right track.”


“Our leader is our coach (Dan Bylsma),” GM Ray Shero said Thursday when addressing his team’s recent slide. “I believe in him and our coaching staff.”

And on Friday, Pittsburgh’s leader helped hoist his team out of their slump and continued to build his legacy within Penguins history when he surpassed his predecessor, Michel Therrien, for sole possession of second place on the franchise’s all-time wins list with 136.

In just three-plus seasons behind the bench, Bylsma has put together a 136-73-23 overall regular-season record and won the Jack Adams Award in 2010-11 as the NHL’s Most Outstanding Coach.

Oh yes, and there’s that coveted silver chalice known as the Stanley Cup that Bylsma directed the team to back in 2009 during his postseason behind the bench.

Marc-Andre Fleury surrendered just one goal to the Panthers on Friday – and this time, it would be enough for the win.

He wasn’t tested much early, as the Panthers mustered just three shots on goal in the first period. But they really started to hit their stride just over halfway through the second, especially their top line of Tomas Fleischmann, Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg and D pairing Brian Campbell and Jason Garrison.

Fleury’s best series of saves came with the Pens holding a 1-0 lead with just under four minutes left in that period when he stoned a wide-open Weiss on the doorstep, turned aside a Garrison blast from the circle then saved a Versteeg chance from just outside the blue paint.

If the Panthers had gotten the tying goal there, it could have been a totally different game. But they didn’t, and Fleury’s heroics allowed Malkin to score with just 34.8 seconds left in the period to put Pittsburgh up 2-0 instead.

“Those were tremendous opportunities, point blankers, and pucks from behind the net as well. ‘Flower’ had to make two great saves there,” Bylsma said. “On the bench, you could feel it that you just gotten two big saves from your goaltender that I think really buoyed us.

“Those are longer shifts and pretty good shifts by their team in the second period. Once we were able to get the second goal, I think we really cashed in on those two really big saves by Flower.”

The Pens desperately needed everyone to start stepping up and start playing better in order to break their losing streak, but perhaps no one more so than their top line of Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal.

And boy, did they deliver.

Malkin and Neal both scored for Pittsburgh and combined for a whopping 16 shots on goal. But that doesn’t tell the whole story, as they started by hitting three posts.

Those opportunities came on Pittsburgh’s first power play of the night at the 11:33 mark of the opening period. Neal hit the right post first on a quick turn and shoot and clanked a puck off the left post on a quick dish pass from Malkin, who was the third to strike the red painted metal.

After the teams entered the first intermission soreless, the visions of those pucks hitting posts haunted the Penguins.

But enough was enough. After Steve Sullivan tallied just 1:49 into the second to put Pittsburgh on the board, Malkin ended the middle frame by scoring with just 34.8 seconds left.

Things got a bit scary when Florida cut Pittsburgh’s lead to 3-1 with just over 13 minutes left in the third. But the Penguins’ top trio iced the victory with 4:17 left in regulation.

On the play, Kunitz banked a pass off the boards to Neal from behind his own blue line. Neal carried into the zone with Malkin trailing, but opted to shoot and made the right choice as the puck sailed past Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen for the score.

Much like they did during their recent slide – especially on Wednesday in Washington – the Penguins picked up the physicality and continued to generate plenty of scoring chances on Friday in Florida.

And this time, it finally paid off.

Pittsburgh outhit the Panthers 36-24, with Craig Adams leading the way in that category with seven, followed by Brooks Orpik with five and Deryk Engelland, Eric Tangradi and Dustin Jeffrey all recording four.

The Penguins also held a 41-26 advantage in shots, led by Neal’s nine and Malkin’s seven. That doesn’t include the four posts Pittsburgh hit in the first.

Author: Michelle Crechiolo
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