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Penguins 3, Panthers 1

The SportsXchange

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Pittsburgh Penguins, owners of the best record in the Eastern Conference, played without three of its biggest stars and yet still had enough to defeat the last-place Florida Panthers, 3-1, Saturday night at the BB&T Center.

Pittsburgh scored two first-period goals and held on from there. The Penguins killed four penalties from the second period on, including an elbowing call on Brenden Morrow with just 5:10 left in the game.

Morrow also got an empty-net goal with 20 seconds left.

The Penguins, who have won 19 of their past 21 games, were missing three of the most dynamic offensive players in the league: Evgeni Malkin (shoulder), Sidney Crosby (broken jaw) and James Neal (concussion).

Only Malkin's injury is new, and it is considered minor. Had this been a playoff game, he likely would have played.

The Penguins, who have not lost more than two games in a row all season long, got off to a strong start. With 14:49 elapsed defenseman Kris Letang scored his fourth goal of the season, connecting on a slapshot. Beau Bennett and Morrow got the assists.

Less than four minutes later, Morrow scored his eighth goal of the season, getting a wrist shot past a screened off Panthers goalie, Jacob Markstrom. Bennett and Joe Vitale had the assists.

The Panthers came back to make it 2-1 with 4:10 gone in the second period. Florida got traffic in front of Penguins goalie Marc- Andre Fleury, and the goal went to Scottie Upshall on a tip-in, his third of the season. Brian Campbell and Jack Skille earned the assists.

With the win, the Penguins avenged a 6-4 loss suffered on Feb. 26, the last time they played Florida. Winger Peter Mueller (birth of baby) also came back after missing Thursday's game against Winnipeg.

Markstrom lost his third straight start, including a 7-2 rout on Thursday against the Jets.

NOTES: Crosby, who has not played since breaking his jaw and losing several teeth during a March 30 game against the New York Islanders, has been cleared to fly and accompanied the team to its Florida road trip, including Saturday against the Panthers. Crosby has not yet been cleared to skate, but he is determined to play before the regular season ends later this month. ... Despite the time missed, Crosby still leads the NHL in points. ... The Penguins just got defenseman Kris Letang back Thursday after he missed two weeks because of a broken toe and a groin injury. Fellow defenseman Paul Martin (broken hand) has resumed skating for the first time in two weeks, and it's possible he could return for the playoffs in May. ... The Panthers' Tomas Fleischmann entered Saturday with a seven-game point streak. During the streak, he had three goals and five assists. His career best for a point streak is nine, set in 2009. ... Panthers goalie Jose Theodore practiced this week for the first time since he injured his groin March 2 and he wants to get into at least one game before the season ends. Theodore is an unrestricted free agent after this season and may be the odd man out of the Panthers' goalie rotation. Rookie Jacob Markstrom is a restricted free agent and will likely return. Backup Scott Clemmensen has one year left on his contract and is a good bet to return in that same role. ... Up next, the Penguins return home to play Montreal on Wednesday. ... The Panthers start a four-game road trip Tuesday against the New York Islanders.
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