Pens host Panthers to begin home-and-home set

(SportsNetwork.com) - The Florida Panthers will try to post their longest winning streak in a calendar year when they visit the Pittsburgh Penguins for the opener of a home-and-home series Saturday at Consol Energy Center.

Florida has won two in a row to match a season high, but the club hasn't put together three consecutive victories since a five-game run from Dec. 10-19 of last season.

The Penguins also enter Saturday having won their last two tests. The Metropolitan Division leaders also have gone six straight without a regulation loss, posting a 4-0-2 record during that stretch.

Florida has claimed two of three and three of the past five encounters in this series. The teams last met on Jan. 20 when the Panthers recorded a 5-1 rout in Pittsburgh. That lopsided victory halted Florida's eight-game road losing streak in this series, as the Panthers won in the Steel City for the first time since Jan. 3, 2009.

The clubs will meet in Sunrise on Monday to complete the home-and-home.

The Panthers are on a four-game point streak (3-0-1) and all three victories during that stretch came via the shootout, pushing Florida's record in tiebreakers to 4-4 on the season.

After beating the Washington Capitals 2-1 in an NHL-record 20-round shootout on Tuesday, the Panthers won by the same score in a shorter battle Thursday in Philadelphia. Dave Bolland's goal to start the sixth round proved to be the decisive score against the Flyers, as Roberto Luongo turned aside Sean Couturier's ensuing attempt to end the game.

Scottie Upshall lit the lamp in regulation for the Panthers, while Luongo made 25 saves through regulation and overtime.

"I thought we played a solid game, not a great game, but a solid game," said Panthers coach Gerard Gallant. "We were able to come out of here with two points in Philly and it's a big two points for us."

Brad Boyes sat out Thursday's game for Florida and the forward is questionable tonight with an upper-body injury.

The Panthers are capping a brief two-game road trip Saturday. They are 7-4-2 as the guest this season.

Pittsburgh welcomed Sidney Crosby back to the lineup on Thursday, but Blake Comeau and Marc-Andre Fleury made the difference in the Pens' 1-0 overtime victory against visiting Colorado.

Comeau scored the game's only goal at 2:24 of overtime, while Fleury stopped all 29 shots sent his way for the shutout. Fleury has a career-best six shutouts this season and also is leading the league in that category.

Fleury was tested for the mumps Wednesday, but was able to start the following night when the results came back negative. Crosby wasn't so lucky, as he missed three games due to the illness, but he was back in action on Thursday.

"It took probably a period to get used to the speed. The fact you miss some time you feel it early on, but once you get in the game you start to feel more comfortable," Crosby said.

Pittsburgh's captain logged 20 minutes, 19 seconds of ice time and registered three shots on goal. Crosby has 35 points on nine goals and 26 assists over 28 games this season.

The Penguins could get another key forward back in the lineup tonight, as winger Chris Kunitz is questionable after missing the past eight games with a fracture in his foot. On Friday, he completed his first full practice since suffering the injury on Nov. 29.

Kunitz has nine goals and 11 assists in 23 games this season.

Pittsburgh announced Friday that defenseman Olli Maatta has been diagnosed with the mumps. He was already sidelined with an upper-body injury.

Fleury is 11-8-0 with a 2.62 goals against average in his career against Florida and is expected to start again tonight.

Luongo is likely to get the call for the Panthers. He is 13-8-3 with a 2.78 GAA in this matchup.

Pittsburgh is 12-4-1 as the host and is capping a three-game homestand tonight.