Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 32 shots as the Penguins ended a nearly five-year home losing streak against the Panthers with a 3-0 victory Tuesday night. And they did it without goals from Sidney Crosby or Mark Recchi.
Michel Ouellet, Dominic Moore and Ryan Whitney scored as Pittsburgh won its fourth straight game and sixth in seventh games. Crosby and Recchi combined for eight goals and 19 points in three games, with Recchi getting six goals and 10 points before being shut out by Florida.
“We got some big saves, especially in the third when they were pressing pretty hard,” Crosby said, pointing to Florida’s 13-4 shots advantage during the final period. “That’s what your goalie needs to do, buy you time and make it tough on teams to get back when you have a lead.”
Crosby did extend his point streak to seven games (four goals, 10 assists) by helping set up Whitney’s ninth goal of the season. The power-play goal came midway through the second period after Florida held off Pittsburgh during two of 5-on-3 advantages that lasted two minutes. Crosby has an NHL-leading 79 points in 46 games.
“It was kind of disappointing that we gave them a goal after working so hard and doing a good job with the 5-on-3,” Florida coach Jacques Martin said.
Fleury got his third shutout of the season and fifth of his career, and against an opponent that had won seven in a row in Pittsburgh since March 5, 2002. The Panthers had won 14 of 15 overall against Pittsburgh.
“We said before the game it was about time – we were all sick of hearing, ‘Why can’t you beat these teams from Florida?’ ” Whitney said. “It was a huge game in that aspect and in the standings, too.”
With a 24-17-8 record, the Penguins are an NHL-best 25 points ahead of their pace of last season, when they were 11-29-9 en route to winning only 22 games. They are in playoff contention for the first time since Mario Lemieux’s comeback season six years ago.
“With that personnel over there, it was only a matter of time before they got going,” Florida’s Bryan Allen said. “Fleury played well, especially in the third period, and sometimes that’s the biggest factor.”
The Penguins returned from one of their best road trips in years, beating Dallas 4-3 in a shootout Friday and Phoenix 7-2 on Saturday, but didn’t experience the letdown some teams have in the first game at home following a western swing.
“We wanted to make sure we come back here focused,” Crosby said. “We didn’t come back overconfident.
“We came back with a strong work ethic and tried to play the way we did in those two games on the road.”
Ouellet got the game’s first goal late in the first period, squeezing a backhand shot between goalie Ed Belfour’s right shoulder and the goal post. Evgeni Malkin knocked down Jordan Staal’s pass with his right hand in the neutral zone before threading a cross-ice pass onto Ouellet’s stick to the left of the net.
Moore made it 2-0 as the Penguins’ checking line scored 2½ minutes into the second period. Jarkko Ruutu went into the corner to chase down Ronald Petrovicky’s dump-in and fed Moore in front for another backhand shot that got past Belfour.
“The first two periods, I think we were a little slow, a step behind and that cost us the game,” said Olli Jokinen, who had four goals as the Panthers won the first two games between the teams. “They’ve got a lot of players in here the last few years and it’s paying off.”
Notes: The Penguins have a 22-7 scoring edge during their winning streak . . . Florida has won only six of 27 road games . . . The Penguins have gotten 13 of 14 points in their last seven games . . . The crowd of 15,405 ended a streak of eight consecutive Penguins home sellouts . . . Petrovicky has an assist in each of his last two games after not previously having one all season . . . Mike Tomlin, the new Steelers coach, was among those in the crowd.