Florida Panthers

Bad blood boiling between Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins' Kris Letang (58), and Florida Panthers' Willie Mitchell (33) each get a face full of glove during a fight in the first period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014.
Pittsburgh Penguins' Kris Letang (58), and Florida Panthers' Willie Mitchell (33) each get a face full of glove during a fight in the first period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014. AP

It’s not all that rare to have consecutive games against the same opponent in the NHL, but the so-called home-and-home series sure aren’t the norm.

What rarely happens, however, is the first game being so good, fans are already anticipating the sequel before the first one is even done.

Yet that’s what was going on Saturday night as the Panthers battled the Penguins.

The host Penguins won a penalty-filled game 3-1 that was a one-goal game before Sidney Crosby scored seven minutes into the third.

Afterward, a number of players didn’t have much good to say about the home team, with more than one insinuating Monday night couldn’t come soon enough.

“We’re lucky we get to play them again on Monday,’’ said defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who fought Steve Downie in the second period.

“We have to find a way to win. If we want to be among the upper echelon in this league, conference and division, we have to find ways to grind out wins. All in all, we’re leaving here with a pretty good mind-set.’’

The Panthers apparently don’t like the Penguins, and by the looks of things on Saturday, the feeling is mutual.

Although Florida doesn’t get into many fights nor play an overly physical game, it did on Saturday.

A number of fights broke out during the game with some odd names headed to the penalty box.

Jussi Jokinen, who has no registered NHL fights according to hockeyfights.com, got involved in a fracas with former teammate Evgeni Malkin and went off for roughing.

So, too, did Dave Bolland and Dylan Olsen.

Where did all of this come from? The two don’t have much of a history, although they have had their fighting moments over the years.

“They started off pretty hard and were firing pucks and finishing every hit,’’ said Crosby, who famously jumped Florida’s Brett McLean in the faceoff circle when the two teams played back in 2009.

“Both teams got into it pretty early but after that, everyone got back to hockey. It was funny because nothing really led into it, but that’s hockey sometimes.’’

Captain Willie Mitchell took a five-minute major for fighting with Kris Letang in a bout in which he swung Letang’s own helmet at him.

Gudbranson also took five minutes, and Downie spent an extra 10 in the locker room as some of the only punches he seemed to land came when officials had Gudbranson down on his back.

“It was kind of funny there in the first, it got wild with a little chippiness,’’ said coach Gerard Gallant, himself a bit of a bruiser in his playing days. “It showed the two teams were ready to play. There wasn’t a whole lot of dirt. For whatever reason, incidents happened.’’

All of this bad blood is only good for the box office. Monday’s game, without a doubt, will be Florida’s biggest-attended home game of the season, eclipsing the 11,419 the Panthers announced on opening night.

The Penguins are already hockey’s top draw around the league and throwing in a bit of vitriol only adds a little excitement to the matchup.

The Panthers have waited all season for a big crowd at home, and it looks like they’ll get it Monday. Of course, with all the Pittsburgh transplants in the area not everyone will be rooting for the home team.

“They’re a great team, they lead our division and we want another crack at them,’’ Gallant said. “Hopefully the results will be better. It’s exciting, it’s our last game before Christmas break. The guys are disappointed with the result, but happy with how we played.’’

▪ After going 0for5 on the power play Saturday, Pittsburgh now has goals in just two of its past 34 chances.

Despite being right in the playoff mix, the Panthers have yet to win three games in a row this season and have won two consecutive games only three times.

On Saturday, the Panthers were looking for third consecutive win but were turned back by Pittsburgh.

Florida is 0-2-1 in such games this season.

▪ Coming into Saturday, the Panthers had gone to overtime in their previous four games. Florida was 3-1 in those games with all three wins coming in shootouts.

Monday: Penguins at Panthers

When/where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise.

TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560.

Series: Pittsburgh leads 42-34-4.

Noteworthy: Despite having eight players on the injured list including a number with the mumps, the Penguins keep rolling along and have won seven of their past 10 games.

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