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Kopecky's hat trick helps Panthers end home losing streak

The SportsXchange

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Make every shift count.

It's a simple mantra, but Tomas Kopecky, who got his first career hat trick Tuesday night, said that was how the Florida Panthers broke five-game home losing streak.

After Kopecky was the early hero, teammate Tomas Fleischmann scored a tie-breaking, short-handed goal to lead the Panthers to a wild 6-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins at the BB&T Center.

It was career goal No. 100 for Fleischmann, who took a breakaway pass from Jerred Smithson and scored on a wrist shot 3:29 into the third period.

Florida, which hadn't won at home since Jan. 31, gave up a 4-1 lead before coming out on top. Scott Clemmensen came on in relief of starting goalie Jose Theodore to get the win.

"We battled the full 60 minutes," said Kopecky, who capped his night with an empty-net goal with a minute left. "We just had to stick with it, and that's something we hadn't been doing the last few games. This time, we made every shift countable."

Florida's first four goals all came on its suddenly hot power play -- two by Kopecky and one each by Brian Campbell and Marcel Goc. For the game, the Panthers were 4 of 7 with the man advantage.

"We have to do a better job of staying out of the box," said Penguins star Sidney Crosby, who had two assists.

Kopecky, who has eight goals this season, has scored six times in the past six games. He also drew a second-period elbowing penalty on Brooks Orpik, and there were just nine seconds left on the power play when he scored his second of the night to give Florida a 2-1 lead.

After the score, Penguins goalie Tomas Vokoun -- who was the Panthers' starter from 2007 to 2011 -- threw a punch at Kopecky, which touched off a brawl involving several players.

With 8:22 left in the second period, Campbell scored his fifth goal of the season on a slapshot to make it 3-1.

Thirty two seconds later, Goc got his first goal of the season, scoring on a wrist shot from close range.

That chased Vokoun and brought in starter Marc-Andre Fleury.

The Penguins then closed the wild second period with three straight goals -- by Dustin Jeffrey, Paul Martin and Chris Kunitz.

Kunitz, though, said the Penguins were "outworked" in certain areas.

"We did a good job of battling back and getting in a game that we didn't have any business being in," Kunitz said, referring to the 4-1 deficit. "But, overall, we weren't very good at all."

Theodore, the Panthers' No.1 goalie to start the season, lasted until the end of the second period, also allowing four goals.

"I was trying to give us the best chance to win," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "And Theo didn't look like he was on top of his game. He had a tough second period."

Theodore had sat for much of the past week as his backup, Clemmensen, got one start and rookie Jacob Markstrom was called up and inserted into the lineup twice.

But Markstrom was sent back to the minors Monday, even though he was solid in stopping 65 of 71 in losses to Pittsburgh and Boston last week.

The roster move cleared the way for Theodore to get another chance, and he failed to make the most of it.

Clemmensen replaced him to start the third period Tuesday and stopped all 15 shots he faced.

"It's always difficult coming into a game like that," Clemmensen said. "But you have nothing to lose. It's 4-4, and you just have fun with it.

"Obviously, it worked out tonight. I felt good coming off my last game in Philadelphia, and I think that helped carry me through."

Meanwhile, the Penguins, playing their second game without star winger Evgeni Malkin, could have vaulted over the Montreal Canadiens to the top of the Eastern Conference with a win.

Instead, Vokoun lost his third straight game. He gave up six goals in his previous start, against the Flyers, and has not won since Feb. 3.

"It was an onslaught on Tomas," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "He saw a lot of shots (22), he saw the power plays repeatedly. It was more of a situation where the team needed a change more than the goaltender needed a change."

Vokoun had a good track record playing against the Panthers last season, going 3-0 with two shutouts while playing for the Capitals. He allowed only one shot past him out of 85.

Malkin is on the injured list because of concussion symptoms, including short-term memory loss and headaches, after being hit into the boards by Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson in a Penguins win last Friday.

Malkin is not expected to play on the current road trip that continues Thursday in Carolina and ends Saturday in Montreal. How much longer he will be out is unknown.

NOTES: Center Stephen Weiss, Florida's all-time leader in games played, missed Tuesday's game to fly home to Toronto and attend his grandmother's funeral. ... Weiss, a free agent after the season, is off to a slow start with one goal and three assists in 14 games and a minus-11. Weiss, 29, has a no-trade clause in his contract and was benched for the final six minutes of Sunday's 4-1 loss to the Bruins. ... Panthers winger Alex Kovalev, who is one assist shy of 600, was a healthy scratch. ... Panthers defenseman Filip Kuba was scratched because of an upper-body injury. ... Several Penguins players were at the top or near the top of the NHL in statistical categories entering Tuesday's games. James Neal was tied for third with 12 goals. Sidney Crosby was second in points with 28 and second in assists with 19. Malkin was tied for fourth with 17 assists. ... Two Panthers who are on the injured list -- Kris Versteeg (upper body) and Scottie Upshall (ankle) -- are close to returning to the lineup. ... Pens defenseman Mark Eaton, signed Monday, is not yet ready to play, according to Bylsma. ... The Panthers conclude their three-game homestand Thursday against Buffalo.
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