Panthers look to improve on offense, face Pens

Tune into FOX Sports Florida at 7 p.m. to watch the Florida Panthers take on the Pittsburgh Penguins. NHL Panthers territory.

The Pittsburgh Penguins seem to be getting stronger down the stretch as they try to remain in the top half of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

A rare win in Pittsburgh would help the Florida Panthers in their pursuit of the Southeast Division crown.

The Penguins seek their seventh straight home win over the Panthers and a season high-tying eighth consecutive victory overall Friday night.

Pittsburgh (40-21-5) currently holds the fourth seed – and its accompanying first-round home-ice advantage – by two points over Philadelphia. The Penguins scored the final three goals in Wednesday’s 3-2 victory over Toronto.

Pascal Dupuis scored twice and had an assist for the Pittsburgh, which won for the 11th time in its last 12 home games.

“The way we’ve been playing, we feel like we can come back in every game and we proved it again,” Dupuis said.

Jordan Staal added a goal and an assist, giving him three goals and six assists during a career-high six-game point streak. Staal and Dupuis’ linemate Steve Sullivan also had an assist as that trio provided the spark on a night when Evgeni Malkin had his eight-game point streak snapped, and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury had the night off.

“I think tonight with that line they really drove our team to the next level,” coach Dan Bylsma said.

Malkin scored and Fleury made 25 saves in the Penguins’ 4-1 win over the Panthers in the most recent meeting Jan. 13 at Florida, giving Pittsburgh a chance Friday to take three of four in the season series.

Dupuis had a goal and an assist Oct. 11 to help Pittsburgh earn a 4-2 home victory, its ninth win in the last 10 meetings on its own ice against Florida.

Fleury has won his last four starts with a 1.47 goals-against average versus the Panthers, who have allowed at least the first two goals in six of their last seven games overall.

Florida (31-23-12), which hasn’t made the postseason since 2000, failed to help itself Thursday by falling 5-0 at Philadelphia. The Panthers have been outscored 17-5 while losing three of four, with two of those losses shutouts.

“This is a tough one to take,” coach Kevin Dineen said after the loss to the Flyers. “Composure is the biggest issue for us right now. We have veterans here that need to start playing 60 minutes.”

That seems especially true given the Panthers have played their last five games without leading scorer Kris Versteeg, who is nursing a lower-body injury and isn’t expected to return this week.

Florida remains in the thick of the race in the tightly-packed Southeast, but a third-place finish behind Washington and Winnipeg could leave the Panthers out of the playoffs yet again.

“We have to keep battling. We have to keep finding some chances any way we can,” said Brian Campbell, whose 40 assists rank second among NHL defensemen. “Any good team in this league is going to take advantage against us if we keep playing like this.”

Campbell scored while Steven Weiss had the game-winning goal and added two assists in Florida’s 3-2 home win over Pittsburgh on Nov. 19, marking the Panthers’ only victory in the last seven meetings.

Their last win in Pittsburgh was a 6-1 victory Jan. 3, 2009.