Pens shoot for another win over Panthers

(SportsNetwork.com) - The Pittsburgh Penguins aim for a fourth straight win and a sweep of a home-and-home series when they visit the Florida Panthers for Monday's battle at BB&T Center.

The Eastern Conference-leading Penguins notched their third straight win Saturday against the visiting Panthers. The 3-1 triumph also pushed Pittsburgh's point streak to seven games (5-0-2).

Florida, meanwhile, had a four-game point streak (3-0-1) of its own halted with the regulation loss at Consol Energy Center.

Saturday's game was an eventful one, with the Panthers and Pens combining to take 76 minutes of penalties -- 70 of which came in the first two periods alone. Twenty-eight of the PIMs came over a 51-second span late in the first period with the Penguins holding a 2-1 lead.

Pittsburgh's Steve Downie led all players with 17 penalty minutes, but he also notched an assist on both of his team's first-period goals, which gave the Pens an early 2-0 advantage. The second goal came off the stick of Derrick Pouliot, as Pittsburgh's highly-touted defensive prospect managed to score in his NHL debut.

Sidney Crosby and Nick Spaling also scored in the Penguins' fifth consecutive home win, while Marc-Andre Fleury earned the victory with a 45-save effort.

Pittsburgh native Vincent Trocheck provided the lone goal for Florida, which had played beyond regulation in its previous four games, winning three in shootouts and losing the other in overtime. Roberto Luongo stopped 31 shots in defeat.

Despite the loss, Panthers coach Gerard Gallant was pleased with his team's effort.

"If we play like that every night, I think we will win more games than we lose. I was really happy with our group tonight," Gallant said.

Pouliot, a defenseman selected eighth overall by Pittsburgh in the 2012 draft, made it a 2-0 game when he took a cross-ice pass from Downie and beat Luongo high on the glove side with a shot from the bottom of the right circle at 6:56 of the first period.

"It's incredible. You dream about that moment happening," Pouliot said about scoring his first NHL goal.

Just 35 seconds later, Trocheck tipped a long shot by Jonathan Huberdeau past Fleury for a power-play goal, but that would be the only puck to get by Pittsburgh's franchise goaltender.

After a scoreless second period, Crosby would restore the two-goal lead for the Pens with his 10th goal of the season at 7:01 of the third.

Pittsburgh's Chris Kunitz returned to the lineup after missing eight games with a foot fracture. but fellow forward Craig Adams didn't play because of an undisclosed injury, which ended the longest iron man streak in Penguins history at 319 games.

Adams is questionable tonight for the Penguins, who are managing to stay on a roll despite a host of injury and illness concerns.

Luongo expects to start again tonight for Florida, which won't play again until Sunday against visiting Toronto due to the NHL's Christmas break. Luongo is 13-9-3 with a 2,80 goals against average in his career against Pittsburgh.

Tonight's test marks the start of a four-game homestand for the Panthers. They are 7-4-2 as the host this season.

With the Pens also scheduled to play Tuesday at Tampa Bay, Fleury could get a rest tonight in favor of backup Thomas Greiss. Fleury is 12-8-0 with a 2.53 GAA in his career against Florida, while Greiss is 0-1-1 with a 3.91 GAA in this matchup.

The Panthers and Pens have split the last six encounters overall. Pittsburgh has taken two of three and five of the past eight meetings in Florida.