PITTSBURGH (AP) — Steve Sullivan scored the tying goal in the third period, and James Neal and Evgeni Malkin connected in the first two rounds of a shootout to lift the Pittsburgh Penguins to their eighth straight victory, 2-1 over the Florida Panthers on Friday night.
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 28 shots and was perfect in the shootout for his 36th victory of the season, putting him one behind Nashville's Pekka Rinne for the NHL lead.
The Penguins extended the league's longest active winning streak by overcoming a third-period deficit for the eighth time this season, tied with Tampa Bay for the most in the league.
Thomas Fleischmann scored his 21st goal of the season for Florida, and Jose Theodore made 33 saves but the goaltender was outclassed in the shootout by Neal and Malkin, who easily beat Theodore over his glove on wrist shots.
Pittsburgh has been arguably the best team in the league since its last game against Florida, a 4-1 victory on the road Jan. 13 that snapped a six-game losing streak and propelled the Penguins to an eight-game tear.
Nearly two months later, they haven't let up.
Pittsburgh is 20-4-1 in its last 25 games to pull within four points of the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers.
Coach Dan Bylsma said earlier Friday he believes the Rangers can be caught, and with the prospect of captain Sidney Crosby returning from concussion-like symptoms as early as Sunday the Penguins are brimming with confidence.
The Panthers, not so much in losing their second straight.
Florida was crushed by the Flyers 5-0 on Thursday night, yet there appeared to be no hangover. The Panthers are adept at bouncing back after getting blown out, coming in with a 3-2-1 record in games after they've lost by at least four goals.
That resiliency has enabled Florida to stay atop the crowded — and decidedly mediocre — Southeast Division. If the Panthers can continue to play with the same discipline they showed against the NHL's hottest team, they might be in first when the regular season ends in four weeks.
Pittsburgh was supposed to be refreshed following a welcomed day off, yet the Panthers were the ones who appeared to be a step ahead at times. They held the high-flying Penguins in check for most of the night and stayed out of the penalty box.
Fleischmann opened the scoring midway through the second period on a give-and-go of sorts. The left winger worked the boards and fed Wojtek Wolski in the slot before darting to the net. Wolski's shot went wide of the goal and took a big bounce off the boards and onto Fleishmann's stick. Fleury never had a chance and the Panthers had the lead.
It lasted until early in the third period when Jordan Staal created a turnover and fed the streaking Sullivan. The veteran slipped the puck by Theodore for his 14th goal of the season.
The Penguins appeared to move in front with 11:07 to play in regulation when Pascal Dupuis stuffed the puck by Theodore. The goal was waved off following a review, with officials ruling the puck didn't go all the way over the red goal line before Theodore swiped it out of danger.
Pittsburgh had several chances to end it before the shootout, none better than Staal's wide-open rebound that somehow flew over the net.
No matter, Malkin and Neal continued their superb work in shootouts, easily handling Theodore to prevent the goalie from picking up his 21st career victory against the Penguins.
NOTES: Pittsburgh forward Craig Adams left the game in the third period after taking a stick to the face. ... Florida opens a four-game homestand Sunday against Carolina. ... Pittsburgh D Paul Martin was scratched because of an undisclosed injury. The Penguins also scratched D Deryk Engelland, D Kris Letang, G Brent Johnson and forwards Dustin Jeffrey and Eric Tangradi. ... The Panthers scratched D Keaton Ellerby and forwards Mike Santorelli, Jerred Smithson and Kris Versteeg.