Penguins defeat Panthers, seek home-ice advantage in playoffs
Defenseman Zbynek Michalek's latest offensive contribution might have been his biggest yet.
Michalek scored with 7:49 left to break a tie, and the Penguins handed the Florida Panthers their eighth-consecutive loss, 4-2 Saturday night.
Pittsburgh reached 100 points for the seventh time in franchise history. More importantly, the Penguins remained three points ahead of fifth-place Tampa Bay, which won earlier Saturday, in the race for home-ice advantage in the likely Eastern Conference first-round playoff matchup. Tampa Bay has four games to play, one more than Pittsburgh.
''That's something we talked about before the game,'' Michalek said. ''We wanted to get home-ice advantage, if possible. We wanted to make sure we had a good game and came up with two points, and that's what we did.''
Michalek has four goals this season, all scored in the past 12 games. With a delayed penalty upcoming against Florida, Michalek beat Scott Clemmensen with a slap shot from the top of the right circle.
''I feel more comfortable now shooting the puck,'' said Michalek, who joined Pittsburgh as a free agent last summer after spending five seasons with Phoenix. ''It took a while for me to get the first one, but now I feel really good and can keep it going.''
Tyler Kennedy and Pascal Dupuis also scored for the Penguins, who snapped a two-game losing streak. Jordan Staal had three assists, and Craig Adams scored an empty-net goal with 1:30 remaining.
Brent Johnson stopped 28 shots for Pittsburgh, which swept Florida in a season series for the first time.
A little more than a minute after Michalek's goal, Johnson made a great pad save on David Booth's backhand attempt. Johnson then made another stellar pad stop on Marty Reasoner while Florida was on a 4-on-3 power play.
''When we got the lead, he had to come up strong in the third,'' Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. ''It's great to see him have that success, but it's a guy we know is going to battle in there for us.''
Jack Skille and Clay Wilson scored for the Panthers, who are on their worst skid since a 12-game slide during the 2005-06 season (0-8-4). The Panthers haven't won since beating Toronto 4-0 March 17.
Clemmensen, making his fourth-consecutive start in place of injured Tomas Vokoun (back), made 30 saves.
''I thought our effort was there,'' Florida coach Pete DeBoer said. ''We played a good game. Again, though, you have to score to win in this league. Two is not enough. Two is double our normal output lately, but it's not enough to win.''
The Panthers took a 2-1 lead in the first period on goals by Skille and Wilson 22 seconds apart. It was the fastest two goals scored by Florida this season.
After Kennedy gave Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead with his 20th goal, Skille netted his first for Florida since being acquired from Chicago in February.
Skille, who missed the previous four games and 16 of 18 because of an ankle injury, scored at 14:38. He knocked down a pass from Reasoner in front of the net and flicked a quick shot past Johnson.
''It's just good to get the monkey off my back. Now I can just worry about playing hockey and trying to hep this team win,'' Skille said.
Wilson scored his third goal in 12 games since begin recalled from the minors at 15:00 when he beat Johnson with a wrist shot from just outside the left faceoff dot.
Dupuis tied it 45 seconds into the second period when Max Talbot's spin-around backhand attempt from the front of the net went across the crease. With Clemmensen out of position, Dupuis scored into an open net.
''Getting the 100 points, maintaining a three-point margin when it comes to home ice, was big for us,'' Bylsma said. ''Big game for us, a big win coming after two losses, and now we're going home.''
NOTES: The Penguins also reached 100 points in 1992-93, 1993-94, 1995-96, 2006-07, 2007-08, and last season. They failed to hit the mark in any of their three Stanley Cup title seasons. . . . Staal's assist on Kennedy's goal was his 100th in the NHL. . . . Booth played in his 300th NHL game. . . . Florida C Stephen Weiss sat out because of a groin injury. . . . Penguins RW Arron Asham missed his second-consecutive game because of an undisclosed lower body injury.