Letang scores twice in return, Pens beat Panthers 7-6 in OT

Kris Letang scored his second goal of the game with 54 seconds left in overtime to give the Pittsburgh Penguins a 7-6 victory over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night.

Letang, who hadn’t played since Dec. 28 due to a lower-body injury, also added two assists for Pittsburgh. His power-play blast from above the left gave the Penguins just their fourth overtime victory of the season as Pittsburgh, currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, opened up a small bit of breathing room over the ninth-place Panthers.

Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Danton Heinen each had a goal and two assists for Pittsburgh. Rickard Rakell and Drew O’Connor also scored for the Penguins, who beat the Panthers for the 18th time in Florida’s last 21 visits to Pittsburgh.

Casey DeSmith struggled in place of Tristan Jarry, who was a late scratch. DeSmith stopped 33 shots, including both that he faced in overtime, to win for just the third time in his last 10 starts.

Carter Verhaeghe scored twice for Florida, including a tying goal with 2:32 left in regulation. Aaron Ekblad had a goal and two assists. Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Reinhart each had a goal and an assist. Colin White’s sixth goal of the season 4:10 into the third gave the Panthers the lead but Florida couldn’t hold it. Alex Lyon made 42 saves.

Both teams took the ice with only one healthy goaltender available. Jarry, who had played well in two games since returning from a lower-body injury that sidelined him for more than two weeks, missed the game for unspecified reasons.

Lyon seemed poised to get the night off after a leaky performance in a 6-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Monday night. Instead, he was back at work as the Panthers took the ice without Spencer Knight, who didn’t appear on the bench.

Neither Lyon or DeSmith appeared quite ready to play on what might have been short notice, giving up a combined six goals — three by each team — during a frantic first period that included Letang’s first goal since Dec. 15 and Tkachuk’s 25th of the season.

Letang’s goal came on a deflection that appeared to catch Lyon by surprise that gave the Penguins a 3-2 lead. DeSmith almost immediately gave it back when made the ill-advised decision to attempt to head off a lead pass intended for a streaking Verhaeghe. DeSmith lost the race and Verhaeghe flipped it over the sprawled goaltender into the net.

Things settled down in the second. Ekblad’s short-handed goal put the Panthers in front but Crosby knotted the game at 4-4 with a pretty backhand through Lyon’s legs with 40 seconds to go in the period to set up a hectic third period in which both teams squandered one-goal leads.

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