<
>

Pens snap 12-game losing streak, drub Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Penguins snapped a long
losing streak to the Florida Panthers and knocked their nemesis out
of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Sidney Crosby had a goal and three assists, Sebastien Caron made
36 saves, and the Penguins ended their 12-game losing skid against
Florida with a 5-1 victory Friday night.

Konstantin Koltsov, Ryan Whitney, Ryan Malone and John LeClair
also scored for Pittsburgh, the NHL's worst team this season.

Jay Bouwmeester scored for Florida but Roberto Luongo stopped
only 14 of 18 shots through two periods. That was enough to
eliminate the Panthers from the postseason chase. The best they can
do is tie eighth-place Tampa Bay for the final spot, but the
Lightning would win the tiebreaker based on more victories.

"We've been playing at a high level now for a month-and-a-half
but there's no excuses," Florida forward Chris Gratton said. "We
let down in all areas. We're embarrassed to play like that in front
of our fans."

Crosby's 36th goal of his rookie season gave Pittsburgh a 4-0
lead at 14:17 of the second. Andy Hilbert passed to Crosby, who was
skating toward the net. The teen phenom beat Luongo on the glove
side from just outside the crease.

"Every time we played them this year, it has been brought up,"
Crosby said of the losing streak. "I'm not going to lie, it was
something that was lingering. It was nice to finally close that
up."

Bouwmeester's point shot went between Caron's legs at 13:51 of
the third period and brought Florida within 4-1, but LeClair pushed
Pittsburgh's advantage back to four goals with 3 minutes remaining.
Caron had hoped to notch his second consecutive shutout.

"You go shot by shot and try not to think about it minute by
minute," Caron said. "There's nothing you can do about it."

Pittsburgh scored first on Koltsov's short-handed goal at 8:32
of the first. Sergei Gonchar brought the puck along the right
boards and fired a pass to Koltsov, who deflected the puck past
Luongo. Just 1:17 later, Whitney grabbed a rebound in front of the
crease and swept a shot in.

"It's been a while, but we knew the streak was going to end one
way or another," Gonchar said. "It's nice we did it tonight."

The Penguins stretched the lead to 3-0 on their second
short-handed goal of the game. Josef Melichar passed from the top
of the left circle to Malone in front and he swatted the puck by
Luongo at 7:32 of the second period.

"We didn't play a good game against New Jersey (a 6-4 loss on
Wednesday). We had to bounce back and we did," Pittsburgh coach
Michel Therrien said.

Jamie McLennan made eight saves for Florida in the third.

"Give them credit, they worked harder than us," Panthers coach
Jacques Martin said. "They got two short-handed goals and that was
the difference."

Game notes
Pittsburgh beat Florida for the first time since March 5,
2002. ... Crosby has a four-game goal streak. ... Luongo lost for
the first time in 12 games against the Penguins.