PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Penguins entered the weekend ragged and reeling.
Two games, nine goals — including a couple by the snakebit power play — and another steady performance by Marc-Andre Fleury provided a reminder: when focused and fed-up, the Penguins remain as potent as ever.
Fleury stopped 34 shots, Patric Hornqvist and Evgeni Malkin collected three points apiece and the Penguins beat the Florida Panthers 5-1 on Sunday night.
Paul Martin added his third goal of the season for Pittsburgh, which won for the second time in less than 24 hours to keep pace in the crowded Metropolitan Division and regain some confidence after a three-game losing streak.
“It doesn’t matter what team we play,” said Malkin, who scored twice and assisted on Hornqvist’s second goal. “If we play right, we play our game, we can beat any team in the league. We showed the last two games how we can play.”
Sidney Crosby had two assists as the Penguins relied heavily on Fleury early before pulling away late to hand the Panthers their second straight loss.
The Penguins have spent most of the past three months in an extended funk, an inconsistent stretch whose low point may have come last week when they were beaten soundly at home by Washington and again by Columbus two nights later.
Pittsburgh managed all of two goals combined in the defeats, leading coach Mike Johnston to shuffle the lines looking for a spark.
The dividends arrived almost immediately.
The Penguins rolled to a 4-2 victory in St. Louis on Saturday night behind two goals from Blake Comeau — moved to the second line with Malkin and Chris Kunitz — and were even more impressive Sunday after finding their legs late.
Fleury’s spectacular play gave his teammates time to get it together after a sluggish start. The Panthers, like Pittsburgh playing for the third time in four nights, peppered Fleury early.
Florida threw 16 shots at Fleury in the first period. Fleury turned away each one, including a sequence in which he lost both his glove and his stick and still managed to sweep the puck out of harm’s way.
“Fleury was the MVP of this game,” Malkin said. “He’s the MVP of this season. He saved a couple chances and gave us a chance to win.”
Al Montoya made 21 saves for Florida but the surprising Panthers fell three points behind Boston in the chase for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a quarter of the season remaining.
Scottie Upshall scored Florida’s lone goal long after things were decided.
Hornqvist gave the Penguins the lead 9:18 into the game with the kind of goal the team has struggled to produce of late. Kris Letang stepped in front of a clearing attempt and passed to Hornqvist diving toward the net. Montoya couldn’t get a grip on it and Pittsburgh was in front.
It stayed that way until late in the second, when a rink-wide pass by Florida’s Erik Gudbranson took a strange carom off the boards and the stick of Pittsburgh’s Nick Spaling right to Malkin. The former MVP broke in alone on Montoya and flipped a shot in the cavernous gap between Montoya’s legs.
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