Penguins overcome sluggish start to edge Florida
SUNRISE, Fla. — When the Penguins fell behind by two goals in the first six minutes of Friday night's game, Sidney Crosby figured his team would need at least one power-play goal if they expected to mount a comeback.
They got three.
And the third was a clutch winner in the waning moments of the third period.
Conor Sheary scored on a backhand move on a breakaway with 2 minutes, 53 seconds left in regulation as the Penguins rallied past the Florida Panthers, 4-3.
The Penguins have scored at least one power-play goal in five consecutive games. They've won five of their last six.
“You can't expect to make a habit of that, but I think our power play knew we had to at least chip in with one if we wanted to get back in it,” said Crosby, who also scored a power-play goal of his own in the second period.
The Panthers came into the third down 3-2 and hit a potentially serious roadblock when goalie Roberto Luongo, who made 33 saves, left with about 15 minutes left in regulation when he suffered an apparent hand injury in a collision with Sheary.
Still, Florida rallied to tie the score less than five minutes later.
Rookie defenseman Mackenzie Weegar scored on a shot through traffic from the top of the right circle to make it 3-3 midway through the third.
The Penguins responded with Sheary's goal, which was set up when Radim Vrbata tripped Bryan Rust with 4:24 to play. Sheary took a long, pinpoint pass from Olli Maatta as he crossed the blue line and beat back-up James Reimer.
Maatta ran his career-long points streak to six games.
“He can't do anything wrong right now,” Sheary said. “That was a great pass, though. Saucer right on my stick.”
There were two huge momentum swings in the first half of the game, and both centered around calls involving defenseman Ian Cole.
Seven seconds into the game, Cole was whistled for high-sticking.
The Panthers didn't score on the power play, but they took control of the game, getting goals from Jamie McGinn and Aleksander Barkov in a 99-second span a few minutes later.
Sheary said the Penguins might have been in vacation mode after spending the previous three days in sultry South Florida.
“That's not a great way to start,” Cole said. “That's on me.”
The Penguins stabilized in the second half of the first period, then poured in two goals 27 seconds apart early in the second.
Cole started the surge when he plastered Jonathan Huberdeau into the boards and stood over him until the Panthers forward retaliated with a slash.
The Penguins scored seven seconds into the power play when Phil Kessel zipped a pass from the left circle to Evgeni Malkin at the far post.
“You obviously want to finish him hard, and I did,” Cole said. “You obviously don't want to let him get back up and skate right to the net, so I tried to keep him out of the play for as long as I could. I was fortunate enough that he took a penalty. That's not a super smart play. Made him pay for it.”
Thirty seconds later, the fourth line, which has seen limited ice time in recent games, chipped in a critical goal. Ryan Reaves obliterated Weegar behind the net on the forecheck, and Tom Kuhnhackl centered to Carter Rowney streaking in toward the right post for a shot past Luongo.
“All three of those guys played a huge role in scoring that goal and that was a big goal for us,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “I thought that line had a really strong night.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.