Final

Series (Game 3 of 4)

Florida leads 3-1

Game 1: Tuesday, October 25th
Panthers4Final
OT
Penguins3
Game 2: Friday, November 25th
Penguins3Final
Panthers6
Game 3: Wednesday, March 29th
Panthers5Final
Penguins3
Game 4: Friday, April 7th
Penguins5Final
Panthers1

Panthers 5

(33-30-9, 75 pts)

Penguins 3

(18-42-12, 48 pts)

7:30 PM ET, March 29, 2006

Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

1 2 3 T
FLA 2 2 15
PIT 0 1 23

R. Luongo (Panthers - G): Saves: 31, Save Pct.: .912

N. Horton (Panthers - RW): Goals: 1, Assists: 0

J. LeClair (Penguins - LW): Goals: 1, Assists: 0

Panthers top Pens to win seventh straight

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- A franchise-record seven-game winning streak has raised the standards of the Florida Panthers.

Chris Gratton scored his first goal in eight games as the Panthers jumped out to a four-goal lead and beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-3 on Wednesday night.

"We didn't play well tonight," center Olli Jokinen said. "(Goalie Roberto Luongo) had a good game, but overall, we were a little sloppy."

Luongo stopped 31 shots.

John LeClair had his 400th career goal for Pittsburgh.

The Panthers, which are 10-1-1 in their last 12, moved into 10th place in the Eastern Conference standings, six points behind eighth-place Montreal.

Nathan Horton, Gary Roberts, Rostislav Olesz and Juraj Kolnik also scored for Florida.

"We'll take the two points," center Joe Nieuwendyk said. "But we kind of let (Luongo) down a little with sloppy play. We gave them opportunities late that we didn't have to. We have to be better Friday night for sure."

Florida has beaten the Penguins 12 times in a row, the longest current streak by Pittsburgh against one opponent.

"Sometimes against some teams you get wins no matter how you play," Jokinen said.

Gratton scored his 16th goal two minutes into the game when he took a pass from ex-Penguin Jon Sim and fired a slap shot past Marc-Andre Fleury while in the left-wing circle. Sim had two assists in the contest.

"You think you're making quality shots, quality plays and you don't get rewarded," he said. "All we can control is our work ethic and if we keep getting quality chances, we will be rewarded as a result of working hard."

Horton gave the Panthers a 2-0 lead with less than four minutes to play in the first period with a power play goal, his 25th.

Roberts scored his 13th to make it 3-0 Florida on a rebound of an Olli Jokinen shot 23 seconds into the second period. Jokinen has an assist in three consecutive contests.

Fleury's night was over when Olesz scored his eighth 10 minutes later.

"When your goalie doesn't play well," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said, "it is really tough to win."

Pittsburgh staged a late rally, started by LeClair's tally. It came with 3:01 to play in the second period and was a goal not unlike many of the 399 that preceded it.

While on the power play, LeClair collected a rebound from a Noah Welch shot from the point, spun and flipped a backhander past Luongo. It was LeClair's 18th of the season.

"I've scored quite a few goals like that," LeClair said. "It's one less thing hanging over your head. Now you can just go out and play hard. I'm glad it's behind us. It's nice to be able to have family here for it."

Vermont-native LeClair is only the seventh American-born player to score 400 goals. His total is four behind the Calgary Flames' Tony Amonte.

Andy Hilbert got a goal midway through the final period for the Penguins to cut the deficit to 4-2. Kolnik's shot into an empty net with 1:11 sealed the victory for the Panthers, even though Kostantin Koltsov scored for Pittsburgh in the closing seconds.

"It wasn't one of our best games," Panthers coach Jacques Martin said. "I think we can play some real good hockey and tonight we didn't play as well. They made it a battle and have a lot of pride and I give them credit."

Game notes


The Penguins were 19-11-3 against Florida from the Panthers franchise's inception in 1993 through the 2000-01 season. Pittsburgh is 1-12-2 versus Florida since, including 0-2 this season. ... Penguins D Eric Cairns served the third and final game of his suspension for spearing Zdeno Chara in Ottawa last week. ... Welch, a rookie, will be sent back to the NHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to make room for Cairns. He had four points in his first three games this week. ... Florida C Jozef Stumpel, who had seven points in his last four games, left the game late in the second period with a hip flexor injury.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press

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