Evgeni Malkin (71) celebrates his second-period goal Friday with Chris Kunitz against the Panthers.
By Shelly Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Hockey players are a superstitious bunch, but Friday the 13th was lucky for the Penguins.
Whether they realized it or not.
"I don't know what day it is. I don't know what date it is. But maybe that's what we needed, a little luck," goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said after making 25 saves in a 4-1 win against the Florida Panthers at BankAtlantic Center.
The Penguins got to watch injured captain Sidney Crosby return to the ice in the morning, orchestrated an innovative show of solidarity at their game-day skate and topped everything off by ending a season-long six-game losing streak. They celebrated with a little music.
"Oh, sometimes, I get a good feeling," blared a Flo Rida song from their dressing room.
"It feels pretty good," said winger Steve Sullivan, who capitalized on a fluky Panther turnover to score the first goal in the second period.
"We know inside this dressing room that we've been playing some really good hockey and just didn't get the results we wanted. We kept talking to ourselves, saying that this is the way we play, no matter what happens."
Some relief came hours earlier when each player appeared at the morning skate with a captains's "C" -- or, in Russian center Evgeni Malkin's case, a "K" -- on his jersey. That was meant to show support for Crosby and underscore the team's cohesiveness, but it also brought a little levity that seemed to break the tension of the losing streak.
"Usually, after a day off you're complaining how tight you are, and practices aren't great," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "[Friday] morning we were all saying that's probably the best practice we've had in a long time. I think it loosened us up a little bit. ... I think it definitely had a carryover."
The win gave Dan Bylsma 136 wins for sole possession of second place among Penguins coaches, moving him out of a tie with his predecessor, Michel Therrien. Bylsma is 136-73-23. Eddie Johnston had 232 wins in two turns as Penguins coach.
"We were stuck on that one for a while," Bylsma said.
The Penguins fell below the Eastern Conference playoff line to ninth during their skid.
Their win, however, didn't allow them to climb in the standings because the Washington Capitals won Friday night.
Both teams have 48 points, but the Capitals have one more win.
A look at the anatomy of the streak: Over the six games, the Penguins scored six goals and gave up 19. They were 1 for 14 on the power play but had just one man-advantage over the previous two games. They had killed 15 of their opponents' 19 power plays. They outshot the other team every game.
The Penguins felt as if they were coming out of their funk with a strong game -- minus a finishing touch on offense -- in a 1-0 loss Wednesday at Washington.
The first period, though, was more of the same -- the Penguins were strong and generated chances but couldn't score. They outshot the Panthers, 18-6, and at least four times hit the crossbar or a post.
They also moved the puck well on two power plays.
The Penguins did not break through until 1:48 of the second period after Florida goaltender Scott Clemmensen misplayed the puck, turning it over to Penguins winger Matt Cooke as it went into the no-play zone for goalies. Cooke dished the puck to Sullivan, who scored on a one-timer from the slot as Clemmensen scrambled to get back to the crease.
That ended a Penguins scoring drought of 110 minutes, 34 seconds.
"The first goal was a turnover by them, but it was kind of one of those breaks that we needed," Orpik said. "It kind of propelled us."
Malkin made it 2-0 with 34.8 seconds left in the second period.
Clemmensen stopped Malkin's slap shot from the left dot after Malkin and Chris Kunitz had an end-to-end, two-on-one breakaway. Malkin went behind the net to fetch the rebound and backhanded the puck in off of Clemmensen at the near post.
The Penguins pushed the lead to 3-0 just 36 seconds into the third period when Tyler Kennedy scored from the right circle, finishing off a tic-tac-toe play off the rush with Pascal Dupuis and Orpik.
Michal Repik spoiled Fleury's shutout bid when he tipped in -- and jumped over -- a shot by Jason Garrison to make it 3-1 at 6:55 of the third period.
James Neal threw the puck past Clemmensen from the left dot at 15:43 of the third period to make it 4-1 with his 22nd goal.
Neal was one of the last Penguins sitting at his stall, smiling, after the game.
"It makes the locker room a lot better atmosphere," he said.
"We can get back to having fun and doing the right things."
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press
Marc-Andre Fleury stops a shot on goal Friday against the Panthers the third period in Sunrise, Fla.