PITTSBURGH – Finally playing at full strength, the Pittsburgh Penguins still needed to go past regulation to beat the pesky Florida Panthers.
Evgeni Malkin scored a power-play goal 37 seconds into overtime to give Pittsburgh a 3-2 victory over Florida on Saturday night.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins – playing their first game this season with their entire lineup healthy – have beaten the Panthers by 3-2 scores in games that went to overtime during each of their three meetings this season.
“It’s nice to have the whole group here back at it,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “When guys come back sometimes it takes time, but we’re a pretty familiar group of guys here.”
Seven seconds after Florida’s Jordan Leopold was whistled for holding, Sergei Gonchar set up Malkin for a one-timer from the high slot. It was the first goal in six games for Malkin, the reigning NHL scoring champion who also had an assist.
“I tried that shot a couple times (during) the game and every time it was blocked by a defenceman,” Malkin said. “This time, during a 4-on-3, there’s wasn’t a defenceman (in the way), so I (had a lane to shoot).”
Pascal Dupuis and Ruslan Fedotenko also scored for Pittsburgh, 8-2-1 in its last 11 games.
Steven Reinprecht and Stephen Weiss scored for Florida. The Panthers have earned at least a point in five of their last seven, but have won only one of their past six.
Four of Florida’s past six games have gone past regulation, and the Panthers are 1-0-3 in those games.
“It was good to get a point, obviously, but it’s tough losing to them in overtime again,” Reinprecht said.
Penguins first-line winger Chris Kunitz (lower-body injury) played for the first time in 14 games.
Nine regulars has missed time over the course of the team’s 32 games, including five defencemen – and as many as six players at once were missing from the Penguins’ projected lineup.
The Penguins entered the game with the second-worst power play in the league – and it showed through five mostly uneventful opportunities in regulation.
But Malkin’s goal allowed them to improve to 7-1 in overtime this season (3-1 in games decided before the shootout).
“I hope it’s what we needed,” coach Dan Bylsma said of the power-play struggles. “We’ve had some good power plays but not scored… Sometimes the only thing we hadn’t done was score a goal. Tonight, I think you saw us squeezing our sticks a little bit more on the power play, and sometimes you need a goal to release that. We were pretty happy to see that slap shot go in.”
The Penguins’ power play was so bad during regulation that it even led to Weiss’ tying goal 4:39 into the third.
Bryan McCabe was sprung for a breakaway coming out of the penalty box. Pittsburgh backup goalie Brent Johnson stopped him but tried to poke check the puck out of danger but Weiss picked it up and threw it into an open net for his team-high 14th.
“We didn’t win, but we played an awful good third period for back-to-back nights and for the schedule we have had,” said Panthers coach Peter DeBoer, whose team was playing its seventh game in 11 days. “I was really proud of our effort. We had to dig deep with twenty minutes to go to find a way to get into overtime and we did that. We didn’t win but it was a gritty effort.”
Reinprecht gave the Panthers the first goal 10:25 in when Radek Dvorak found Rostislav Olesz in front of and to the left of Johnson. Olesz took two wacks at it and the puck fluttered before Reinprecht slapped it in for his 11th of the season.
During the teams’ two previous meetings this season, the Panthers built 2-0 leads they held into the third period but allowed the Penguins to win each time.
But Dupuis’ ninth tied it 2:38 later when the Panthers turned it over at their blue line. Adams found Dupuis skating down the left wing and Florida defenceman Dmitry Kulikov fell down, allowing Dupuis to skate in alone and beat Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun.
Dupuis, who scored the winner Thursday night in Montreal, has four points in his past three games.
Fedotenko scored for the first time in 14 games, going to the net when Malkin had the puck in the right-wing corner. Malkin’s pass went right to the tape of Fedotenko’s stick, which was in the crease, and he pounded the puck into the net for his fifth.
NOTES: Pittsburgh has allowed the first goal in seven of its past eight games. … Weiss has 20 points in his past 20 games, and teammate RW Nathan Horton has 19 points in his past 19 games. … The Penguins are 4-2 when Johnson starts. … The Penguins are 6-1-1 in their past eight at home.