Penguins 5, Panthers 1

Florida Panthers fizzle after strong start against Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins center Joe Vitale (46) scores a goal against Florida Panthers goalie Tim Thomas (34) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, in Sunrise, Fla.
Pittsburgh Penguins center Joe Vitale (46) scores a goal against Florida Panthers goalie Tim Thomas (34) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, in Sunrise, Fla.
Lynne Sladky / AP

The Florida Panthers looked like a well-rested team to start Saturday night’s contest against the Pittsburgh Penguins at BB&T Center.

That quickly changed, as the Panthers couldn’t contain the opportunistic Penguins in a 5-1 loss.

After opening its current five-game homestand with a win over the Flyers, the Panthers have lost two in a row, finding themselves in three-goal holes both times despite outshooting their opponents by 30.

Florida, which had not played since Wednesday, outshot Pittsburgh 7-1 through the first eight minutes and 40-22 overall. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, found itself sluggish in the second game of a back-to-back.

“We have to decide if we’re going to be a mentally focused team,” Panthers coach Peter Horachek said. “We get lots of chances — out-chance them, outshoot them. They capitalized on theirs. They’re a good team. We have to learn to be a team and mentally tougher. We need to be more focused in situations.”

Backup goaltender Jeff Zatkoff put on a masterful performance with 39 saves.

He set the tone by denying right winger Brad Boyes by stretching out while down on the ice just minutes into the game.

Given a power play eight minutes in, Florida couldn’t put together an attack or record a shot on goal. The Panthers failed to score on three-man advantages in the first. On the ensuing transition defenseman Dmitry Kulikov was penalized for tripping.

The Penguins answered by scoring a pair of goals in a span of 32 seconds to capture a 2-0 lead.

Tim Thomas — in net for an 11th consecutive start — retrieved a puck behind the net, but Malkin intercepted his pass along the boards. Malkin’s cross — his first of three assists — went to forward James Neal, who sent it to forward Chris Kunitz. His shot sneaked past Thomas.

On the second goal Thomas blocked forward Jayson Megna’s initial shot following a pass from defenseman Deryk Engelland. Forward Joe Vitale crashed the rebound and squeaked it by Thomas.

Malkin added a goal with assists from defensemen Kris Letang and Olli Maatta 7:23 into the second period off a backhand that beat Thomas’ glove side.

“The first goal I made a mistake playing the puck, which ended up costing us on that power play,” said Thomas, who was replaced by Scott Clemmensen in the third after 13 saves. “To the guys’ credit it didn’t stop us from continuing to go but then they got another quick one. … They were able to put the puck in the net and we weren’t.”

With 9:45 remaining in the second the Panthers thought they had cut the deficit to 3-1 until a review disallowed the goal.

Center Aleksander Barkov beat out a pair of defensemen along the boards to get the puck to left winger Sean Bergenheim, whose wrap-around sailed through the crease. The puck, however, appeared to bounce off Boyes’ skate.

“The bounces weren’t going our way — definitely not my way tonight,” Boyes said. “I had a lot of chances I should have put in, and then that one you get a bounce and it gets overturned.”

Right winger Scottie Upshall collected his 12th point of November — and team-leading 14th of the season — with his sixth goal with 2:01 left in the second. Both defenseman Brian Campbell and center Jonathan Huberdeau assisted on the power-play goal.

But 23 seconds later Neal responded on a one-timer from Malkin to make it 4-1. Left winger Jussi Jokinen beat Clemmensen to cap the scoring when Malkin set him up for a one-timer after a turnover in the Panthers zone 6:10 into the third.

“It’s a frustrating situation,” Horachek said. “Guys are going to have to realize to be a good team they’re going to have to tighten this up. We can’t play that way.”

• Center Jesse Winchester, who missed the past three games with a lower body injury, returned to the lineup. Before the setback, the 30-year-old had recorded points in four of his past seven games, including a stretch of four in a row.

• Right winger Tomas Kopecky (upper body) and defenseman Matt Gilroy (lower body) remain on injured reserve, where they were placed Monday. Kopecky took part in the morning skate, while Gilroy did not.

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