SUNRISE, Florida (AP) — The Florida Panthers’ spark Sunday
night could be traced to Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby’s brawl
in the first period. More specifically, the desperate Panthers
started fighting for a win after Florida defenseman Keith
Ballard’s big hit on Evgeni Malkin that prompted Crosby to throw
punches in the first place.
Bryan McCabe and Rostislav Olesz each had a goal and an assist
to lead the Panthers to a 4-2 win over Pittsburgh, the Penguins’
second regulation loss in 18 games.
“That Ballard hit really changed the momentum,” said David
Booth, who scored for Florida in the second period. “We were
getting outshot pretty bad there. To get the crowd into it,
especially on a big star player in the NHL against Malkin,
really got the team into it.”
Ville Peltonen also had a goal, and Jay Bouwmeester had two
assists to help the Panthers move into a tie with the idle New
York Rangers for eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
“We needed to win tonight. It was do-or-die,” McCabe said.
“That’s one down. We’re tied, same amount of games left. We’ve
just got to keep winning.”
Ballard said he expected a fight after the hit, though he
thought it was clean. Crosby received a minor penalty for
unsportsmanlike conduct and a major for fighting. It was his
second brawl with a Florida player this season; He got into a
fight with Brett McLean during a Jan. 3 game against the
“I went over not sure if he was going to fight,” Crosby said. “I
don’t go into games looking to fight, that’s for sure. It just
kind of happens. It’s just a coincidence. I don’t fight that
much. To get two against one team is kind of weird, but it’s
part of the game.”
Florida, vying for its first playoff berth since 2000, has 89
points with three games remaining. The Rangers, who lost 1-0 to
Boston on Saturday, hold the edge over Florida because they have
one more victory.
“Obviously, we’re in a hole tonight if we don’t win,” Panthers
coach Pete DeBoer said. “And (now) we can wake up tomorrow tied
for the last playoff spot.”
Pascal Dupuis and Mark Eaton scored for the Penguins, who could
have secured a playoff spot with a win. The Penguins, who have
93 points after 79 games, were coming off a 3-2 overtime loss in
Carolina on Saturday night.
“It would have been nice, but every team is desperate,” Crosby
said. “We knew they were going to battle hard. They’re battling
very hard. That’s what we expected.”
In his return to Florida’s starting lineup, goalie Tomas Vokoun
stopped 41 shots. Backup Craig Anderson helped lead the Panthers
to three wins in their past four games, but coach Pete DeBoer
decided to make the switch after Florida’s 3-1 loss to Atlanta
on Friday night.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 22 saves for the Penguins.
Eaton’s power-play goal made it 3-2 with 5:54 left in the third
period. His shot from the point went between Vokoun’s legs.
Then, with 4:04 remaining, Peltonen carried the puck from behind
the net and pushed it home as three Pittsburgh players converged
around him. He put the Panthers up 4-2.
Florida went up 2-1 when McCabe scored with 20 seconds left in
the first period. McCabe’s slap shot went off Pittsburgh
defenseman Kristopher Letang for his 14th goal of the season.
Booth’s power-play goal on a delayed penalty widened the gap.
With 12 seconds left in the second period, Booth took a pass
from Bouwmeester and scored from the side of the net to give the
Panthers a 3-1 lead.
Dupuis tied it at 1 at 6:08 in the first period, slapping home a
loose puck after Panthers defenseman Karlis Skrastins couldn’t
control it in front of the net. Olesz opened the scoring after
just 1:55 of play. He swept up the puck after Pittsburgh
defenseman Hal Gill knocked it with his glove, then came in
alone on Fleury and beat him with a backhand deke.