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Pittsburgh Penguins cruise past Florida Panthers without Evgeni Malkin

The Penguins tried to assure their local writers reigning league MVP Evgeni Malkin missed Saturday’s game against the Panthers because of an “upper-body injury” suspected to be his shoulder and not a case of good old-fashioned Fort Lauderdale sun poisoning.

As always seems to be the case for the Penguins, someone else stepped in.

Despite missing a seriously sunburned Malkin and former MVP Sidney Crosby, the Penguins are a team that keeps winning no matter where the party is. On Saturday, the Penguins got win No. 32 in Game 42 by holding off the Panthers 3-1 in front of an announced 18,891 at BB&T Center.

Since 2008, the Penguins are 24-13-5 without both Malkin and Crosby; Saturday was the first time this season the duo were out together. Crosby is working his way back from a broken jaw.

Pittsburgh has won four consecutive games since its 15-game winning streak was snapped in Buffalo on April 2. The Panthers have lost two in a row with seven games left.

“It’s always a disappointment for the 18,000 people there; you always want to see the premier players,” Florida coach Kevin Dineen said.

“It’s kind of like spending lots of bucks on a Heat game and not getting to see LeBron [James]. That has a little sting to it. But they’ve been down this road before, missing quality players and always having a response.”

The Penguins had a couple of solid chances against starter Jacob Markstrom in the opening period but didn’t put one on the board until there was 5:11 left and Kris Letang let one fly from inside the blue line.

As has been the case in the past few games, there was plenty of traffic in front and the puck skipped past Markstrom despite its long trip from 60 feet out.

A few minutes later and the Pens made it 2-0 as Brenden Morrow, acquired from the Stars last month, found a loose puck by the cage and threw it off Markstrom and into the net as Brian Campbell vainly tried to clear it. The Pens scored on two of their final three shots of the period.

“They still have a really good team even though they are missing some big games,” Markstrom said. “We started great, pushed them back. Then they got a couple goals. We tried until the last second. We just came up a bit short.”

The Panthers cut their deficit in half in the second when Scottie Upshall — pulled aside by Dineen for a long chat during the morning skate — picked up his third goal of the season and fifth since signing a four-year deal worth $14 million in 2011.

“It has been a work in progress,” said Upshall, who has scored 14 or more goals in the four seasons before signing with the Panthers as a free agent. “I think as a group we have a long way to go to where we need to be. At glimpses, we were good; great. Then other times were caught watching.”

The Panthers got a few more shots at Marc-Andre Fleury but couldn’t get another past as he stopped 25 shots. In the third, Florida had a few good chances from Dmitry Kulikov snuffed out on power-play chances.

Markstrom ended up stopping 19 shots — and stopped the final 15 he faced. Florida ends the season 1-2 against the Pens with all three games being tightly contested.

Florida was forced to kill a late penalty when Erik Gudbranson boarded Matt Cooke with 1:48 left. That meant Florida didn’t have the extra attacker even when pulling Markstrom.

The Penguins finished things when Morrow got his second of the night eight seconds after Markstrom headed to the bench.


Forward Peter Mueller stayed behind when the Panthers went north to Winnipeg last week because his wife Taylar was close to giving birth to their first child.

As of postgame Saturday, however, the child due April 10 still hadn’t made an appearance. Mueller said before the game that if he got word from his wife that it was time, he was gone — game or not.

The Panthers, it should be noted, leave for New York on Monday afternoon.

• Defensemen Dmitry Kulikov and Filip Kuba each left Saturday’s game with what Dineen said were lower-body injuries.

• Defenseman Mike Weaver was back in the lineup for the first time since injuring a knee Feb. 28 against the Sabres. With Weaver and Mueller playing, George Parros and Tyson Strachan were Saturday’s healthy scratches.

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