There are a lot of great things about a six-game winning streak.
The best might be that it makes a seven-game run possible.
Not just for the obvious mathematical reasons, but because of the intangibles forged when a team strings together a half-dozen victories.
The Penguins ran their season-best winning streak to seven by defeating Florida, 4-3, in a shootout at Mellon Arena last night, but the absence of panic in their locker room when the Panthers had a 3-1 lead after two periods had at least as much to do with the outcome as the shootout goals Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin scored.
"We came back in the room [after two periods], and nobody was scared," said goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who turned aside both Panthers, Richard Zednik and Stephen Weiss, he faced in the shootout.
Indeed, interim coach Dan Bylsma did a little tactical fine-tuning after 40 minutes, but quickly determined there was no need for an attitude adjustment.
"We had 20 guys in there saying, 'Yes, we can do this,' " he said.
The victory raised the Penguins' record to 36-26-6, good for sixth place in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins will visit Columbus at 7:08 p.m. tomorrow, then return home for eight consecutive games.
The Penguins controlled play much of the evening, but Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun stopped 47 of the 50 shots they launched at him during regulation and overtime.
"We peppered him with shots, and he made some great saves," defenseman Mark Eaton said. "We were fortunate we were able to get key ones by him."
Malkin got the only goal of the opening period, as he fought off Panthers defenseman Keith Ballard before taking a feed from Crosby and throwing a backhander under the crossbar behind Vokoun for his 30th.
Defenseman Nick Boynton, a healthy scratch for the previous five games, countered for the Panthers at 4:37 of the second, beating Fleury high on the stick side from the right side of the slot, and Kamil Kreps put Florida in front at 11:13 when he punched in a rebound from the right side of the crease.
Florida got a potentially critical insurance goal with 70 seconds to go before the second intermission, as a Ville Peltonen feed bounced off Ballard's left leg and past Fleury. A video review determined that Ballard had not kicked the puck into the net.
But even then, the Penguins were more determined than deflated.
"Even though we were down, 3-1, it still felt like we were dominating the game, like we were going to win the game," Eaton said. "That's kind of our style now, to just keep going at them."
Which they did, and it didn't take long for them to be rewarded, as Jordan Staal swatted a Matt Cooke rebound out of the air and past Vokoun at 2:20 of the third.
"I got a lucky one," Staal said. "I'll take it."
Staal's goal further invigorated his teammates, and they tied the score at 5:29 on a fortunate bounce.
Crosby deflected a Bill Guerin feed off the left goalpost, but the puck bounced off Vokoun's leg and wobbled across the goal line to make it 3-3.
Guerin's assist was his 400th in the NHL.
Staal nearly put the Penguins back in front at 7:07, but Vokoun lunged to deny him on a Pascal Dupuis rebound. The Penguins, though, didn't let that deter them.
"Everyone knew that if we kept playing the way we were, we'd be fine," Staal said.
They continued to pressure Vokoun and his teammates, running up an 18-5 edge in shots during the final 20 minutes of regulation.
Consider that late-game surge a byproduct, at least in part, of the Penguins' success in recent weeks.
"It's confidence," Fleury said. "That's something we didn't have a little while ago. This time, it's different."
These days, the Penguins find ways to win games that they might have lost a month ago.
"We experienced it a couple of months ago, when it was snowballing the other way," Eaton said. "It can just as easily snowball in a positive direction, and we're seeing that now.
"We just have to try to keep it going."
Dave Molinari can be reached at email@example.com . First Published March 11, 2009 4:00 AM