Panthers 6, Penguins 4

Tomas Kopecky’s hat trick sparks wild Florida Panthers win over Pittsburgh Penguins

 

Tomas Kopecky scored three times, and the Panthers ended their five-game, home-losing streak after blowing a three-goal lead.

grichards@MiamiHerald.com

Tuesday was just another boring night of hockey in Sunrise.

Take away the 10 combined goals, a hat trick, a big lead wiped away, two goalie changes — including one who decided to throw punches like he was some heavyweight — and, yeah, nothing much to see here.

Starting goalies Jose Theodore and Tomas Vokoun — who went Joe Palooka on Tomas Kopecky — each watched the end of one of the craziest games at the BB&T Center from the bench as Florida scored twice in the third to beat Pittsburgh 6-4.

The Panthers got three goals — including one into an empty net — from Kopecky to help snap a five-game home-losing streak. Scott Clemmensen, who started the third, made 15 saves in the final 20 minutes for his second win in a week.

“This was a big win, and it was important to come here at home,” Clemmensen said. “... It’s always difficult to come off the bench, but I felt good after last week.”

Florida finally got its power play going and built a 4-1 lead fueled by four goals with the advantage. The lead didn’t last, but Florida got it back with a strong third period.

Coming into Tuesday, the Panthers had six of 11 power-play goals in home wins against Carolina and Winnipeg — which, not coincidentally, were Florida’s only home wins of the season before Tuesday.

Florida scored its first four goals off the power play with three coming within a six-minute span of the second for a 4-1 lead.

The final two, coming within 32 seconds of each other, chased Vokoun midway through the second. Soon after Kopecky scored his second goal, Vokoun took offense to his skating partner — and west Broward neighbor — from the lockout days in Pompano Beach making contact in front of the net.

With Kopecky on the ice, Vokoun threw a few punches. The scrum moved to the corner where Vokoun again tossed some jabs. Florida, up 2-1 at the time, had to go on the penalty kill as Kopecky was given two minor penalties to Vokoun’s one.

“Brooks Orpik crashed into me from behind, and I lost my balance. I bumped into him,” Kopecky said. “Then all I see is his big blocker [glove] coming at me. Obviously, I’ll take punches and pay the price, but not cheap shots. I kept pushing him.

“He’s my neighbor, I’ve gotten to know he his family pretty good. But he didn’t hold back. I’m not going to either.”

Dineen was understandably upset as the Penguins went on the power play, but felt better about things when Florida got quick goals from Brian Campbell and Marcel Goc to make it a 4-1 game.

Dineen’s angst quickly returned as Pittsburgh bounced back and scored three unanswered goals to end the second.

The third goal, making it 4-4 with 41 seconds left, came when Chris Kunitz threw up a shot that Florida’s Mike Weaver went down to block. The puck hit Weaver and found its way between Theodore’s skates.

Like Vokoun — the goalie he replaced in Florida on July 1, 2011 — Theodore found the bench. Clemmensen then shut Pittsburgh out.

Florida took its final lead of the night when Tomas Fleischmann, who took a tripping penalty 1:19 into the third, raced out of the box and took a slick feed from Jerred Smithson.

Fleischmann walked in on Marc Andre-Fleury and scored top shelf. Fleischmann’s 100th career goal was a big one as it gave the Panthers a 5-4 lead. Kopecky’s third goal, which marked his first hat trick, sealed the deal.

"It took me two weeks to score and I’m glad to get that one,’’ said Fleischmann, who said he thought of passing off to Drew Shore. "We sure needed it. It was an, well, interesting game.’’

• Center Stephen Weiss left the team Monday to attend funeral services for his grandmother in Toronto. Weiss informed Dineen of the death in his family after Sunday’s game and was granted a leave.

"The hockey season is condensed this year, but it doesn’t stop life,’’ Dineen said. "These things are always hard to deal with, family loss. We always want a player to be with family if possible.’’

Weiss had been benched by Dineen during the third period of Sunday’s loss to the Bruins. Dineen said the two talked about that as well.

"Being able to communicate is important,’’ Dineen said.

With Weiss away, the Panthers recalled Scott Timmins from their AHL affiliate in San Antonio. Alex Kovalev, although healthy, was scratched for the second game in a row and third in the past four. Defenseman Filip Kuba (upper body) also missed his second game in a row, with Colby Robak filling in.

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