By Bill Whitehead
SUNRISE — As accurate and deadly as the Florida Panthers were on the power play Tuesday night, it was what they did right after killing a penalty that was the difference in beating the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Tomas Fleischmann atoned for a tripping penalty on Sidney Crosby by scoring the game-winning goal right after exiting the penalty box, and Tomas Kopecky recorded his first career hat trick as the Panthers beat the Penguins 6-4 in front of 17,378 fans at the BB&T Center.
With the game tied at 4-4, Fleischmann tripped Crosby just 1:19 into the third period. The Panthers killed the penalty, with Jerred Smithson grabbing the puck as it ended. Smithson fed a pass to Fleischmann, who skated in 2-on-1 against Matt Niskanen, the only Pittsburgh defender back and forced to choose between Fleischmann or rookie center Drew Shore. Niskanen turned his back on the puck and picked up Shore, and Fleischmann zipped a wrist shot on Fleury’s stick side that pinged in off the post for the go-ahead goal with 16:31 remaining in regulation–his fifth goal this season and 100th of his career.
Fleischmann talks about his game-winning goal:
Kopecky’s rebound and putback off a Brian Campbell shot was the only goal in the first period, but Pittsburgh’s James Neal scored his 13th on a weak wrister from the right boards that beat Florida goalie Jose Theodore in the first minute of the second.
Kopecky’s second goal, another putback that he swept in while camped in front of Penguins goalie Tomas Vokoun, sparked a melee that ended with the two close friends fighting. Craig Adams cross-checked Kopecky to the ice after the goal, and Vokoun, who played four seasons with the South Florida club, punched Kopecky while the forward was sprawled in front of the crease.
Kopecky got to his feet and took his own shots at Vokoun, while everyone on the ice grabbed someone in an opposing jersey. Mysteriously, the cross-check on Adams wasn’t called, and Florida found itself on the penalty kill as Kopecky received two minors for roughing.
Kopecky, chosen as the No. 1 star of the night by NHL Network, said his former teammate in Detroit, Tomas Holmstrom, was a great mentor to learn from when it came to screening goalies and cleaning up rebounds.
“I probably learned from one of the best in the League. It’s a fun part. Sometimes you get under other guys’ skin. Somebody’s got to do it and I love it. I’ve got no problem with it,” Kopecky said .
Kopecky talking about the scrum with Vokoun:
Campbell and Marcel Goc added power-play goals 31 seconds apart, with Kopecky getting an assist after nifty stickhandling and a backhanded pass to Goc on his first goal of the year, which ran Vokoun from the game and brought in No. 1 goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Pittsburgh, however, tied it on markers by Dustin Jeffrey, Paul Martin and Chris Kunitz, knotting the game at 4-4 as the horn sounded to end the second period.
Scott Clemmensen relieved starting goalie Jose Theodore, who gave up four goals in 19 shots. Clemmensen, who beat Philadelphia last week in his previous start, responded by stopping all of Pittsburgh’s 15 shots in the third period, including three point-blank blasts while the Penguins were on the power player during Fleischmann’s penalty. His last big save was with 1:07 remaining when he blocked Matt Cooke’s slap shot from the top of the left circle. Erik Gudbranson and Goc worked the puck out to Kopecky for assists on his third goal.
Kopecky posted the hat trick when he banked in a long clearing shot from inside his own blue line after Fleury had left the ice for an extra skater. Kopecky’s eight goals tie him for the team lead with rookie Jonathan Huberdeau and give him six goals and an assist in his last seven games. Kopecky, 31, had scored two goals in a game five times before but never netted a hattie. His four-point night paced the way, and Campbell and Fleischmann both had three points.
Florida’s power play had been in a major drought, going 0-for-17 during its five-game winless streak before the Penguins (13-7-0) came in. The power play was also just a paltry 1-of-24 after starting off the season hot. However, the Panthers, who host Buffalo on Thursday, capitalized on 4-of-7 man advantages.
Jonathan Huberdeau on the Panthers’ potent power play
Brian Campbell talks about the win over Pittsburgh and why he enjoyed it: