The Penguins’ injury list expanded Monday with three more players sent home to be tested for the mumps.
Pittsburgh was so short-handed coming into Monday’s rematch with the Panthers, it didn’t even have a backup goalie for pregame warmups.
And yet the Panthers almost had more than they could handle.
Pittsburgh rallied from a two-goal deficit late in the third, but Florida pulled out a 4-3 win in a seven-round shootout in front of the largest home crowd of the season.
Florida’s announced crowd of 15,947 easily surpassed the previous high of 11,419 at the home opener in October.
The Panthers’ lone shootout goal came on their final shot as Aleksander Barkov beat Marc-Andre Fleury to give Florida a third win in four games.
Roberto Luongo stopped all seven shots Pittsburgh took.
Florida has gone a total of 33 rounds in its past three shootout wins, including last week’s NHL-record round of 20 against Washington.
“This was a big win for us,” Barkov said. “The past two games have been like playoff hockey.”
Said Luongo: “I thought we played well in Pittsburgh and didn’t get the win. I like the way we’re playing, we can get better, but we’re taking steps in the right direction. We’re in the hunt, which is exciting this time of year.”
Florida led 3-1 early in the third after Jimmy Hayes scored off assists from Sean Bergenheim and Barkov. The lead, however, wouldn’t last.
“Whenever you get scratched, you want to bounce back and have a solid game,” said Hayes, who sat out Saturday’s 3-1 loss in Pittsburgh. “I need to play a big man’s game every night. We’re a good team. We just need to play a simple north-south game and put pucks at the net.’’
The Penguins got goals from Nick Spaling and Evgeni Malkin in the final five minutes of the third to force yet another overtime for the Panthers.
Florida ended up winning its fifth shootout of the season and fourth in the past few weeks as Luongo stopped the Penguins’ stars in their seven rounds.
Pittsburgh, down 10 regulars and playing eight guys who started the season in the minors, picked up where it left off last weekend by taking a 1-0 lead less than five minutes in.
Jussi Jokinen put the Panthers on the board after a dominant second period by scoring with 36.4 seconds left.
Hayes didn’t waste much time getting Florida its first lead in three days of play against the Penguins, scoring off a wrister that hit Fleury 22 seconds in.
Just before the five-minute mark of the third, Hayes jammed in a loose puck off a Bergenheim shot to make it 3-1.
“Jimmy was big [Monday night],” coach Gerard Gallant said. “He took the puck to the net, and that’s exactly what we want him to do. When the big guy goes hard to the net, good things happen.”
Center Marcel Goc only spent parts of three seasons with the Panthers, but he said he enjoyed his time in Florida and was looking forward to seeing friends on his trip south.
Goc, traded to Pittsburgh at last season’s trade deadline, went from a team playing out the string to one fighting for playoff position.
“It was a big jump in the standings,” Goc said. “I went from one of the bottom teams toward the top. There’s a different pressure here, more expectations. But Florida is feeling that now. They’re playing well.”
▪ The Panthers scratched veterans Tomas Fleischmann and Brad Boyes on Monday and replaced them with Hayes (nine goals) and Brandon Pirri (three).
▪ The Panthers broke for the Christmas break following Monday’s game.
The team returns to practice Saturday morning in Coral Springs with its next game coming Sunday against the visiting Maple Leafs.
▪ The Penguins flew to South Florida with Brandon Sutter, Steve Downie and backup goalie Thomas Greiss but quickly sent them right back to Pittsburgh when they showed signs of the mumps.
Although not able to recall any forwards, the Penguins were able to get minor-league goalie Jeff Zatkoff to Sunrise just in time for the start of the game.