Pittsburgh Penguins’ Comeback Bid Spoiled in Shootout Loss to Panthers


Despite playing without seemingly half of their team, the Pittsburgh Penguins nearly pulled off a late comeback tonight against the Florida Panthers but were bested via shootout in the second chapter of the home-and-home.

The Pens’ took the ice tonight without key contributors at every position. The injury list is beginning to look like a pretty decent team in itself, as Pittsburgh was forced to play without Brandon Sutter, Steve Downie, Craig Adams, Beau Bennett and Pascal Dupuis at forward, alongside Paul Martin, Christian Ehrhoff, Robert Bortuzzo, and Olli Maatta on defense.

Netminder Thomas Greiss was also forced out of the lineup tonight, prompting Pittsburgh to call up Jeff Zatkoff, who only barely made it to Florida in time to back up Marc-Andre Fleury.

While Bennett, Dupuis, and the Pens’ injured defensemen had been out previously, Sutter, Downie, and Greiss were sent down only recently to be tested for mumps, while Adams has been sidelined by an undisclosed injury.

The Pens managed to battle through, however, and almost pulled it off after some late game heroic and big play from two blockbuster additions acquired this summer.

First up was Patric Hornqvist, the main prize won in the James Neal trade, who opened the scoring four minutes into the contest with a beautiful tip-in off of a blast from Simon Despres.

The goal would be the only one from either team for quite some time until former Penguin Jussi Jokinen broke the silence in the final minute of the second period, tying it up as both teams headed into the final frame.

As the third period began, it looked as if the Pens’ mounting worries were beginning to catch up with them. Despite some strong play and some decent chances from Pittsburgh, it was Florida who connected on the scoreboard, as Sean Bergenheim and Jimmy Hayes connected for two goals in the first five minutes of the period (with Hayes the scorer on both).

The Panthers continued to pressure the injury-depleted Pens, looking to seize the opportunity and grind out a win.

Pittsburgh refused to fall so easily, though, and with five minutes left in the game they continued to reap the rewards of the Neal trade as Nick Spaling, the second piece acquired in the deal, tipped in the Pens’ second goal of the game to cut Florida’s lead to one.

Derrick Pouliot, who had an excellent debut against Florida last game (which included Pouliot scoring the game-winning goal on his first NHL shot), stepped up again this time around as he slipped through Panthers forecheckers to fire the shot that Spaling would eventually guide into the twine.

Less than two minutes later, Evgeni Malkin displayed some tremendous determination as he battled in the corner with Florida’s Brian Campbell before taking the puck to the net and slamming it on net not once, not twice, but three times before it found its way past Panthers netminder Roberto Luongo to tie the game at 3-3.

After an overtime period that saw no game-winning goals (but did see a whole lot of Kris Letang outskating various Panthers), the match moved into a shootout.

Fresh off an NHL record-setting 20-round shootout marathon, Florida was surely not keen on repeating the exhausting process.

As each shooter continued to step up and be subsequently stopped, however, it looked as if another marathon was on the horizon.

In the 7th round, however, Panthers forward Alexander Barkov finished it with a beautiful one-handed backhand flick to hop the puck over Fleury’s left pad.

While the loss surely stings, Pittsburgh will be much more concerned with the fate of winger Blake Comeau who left the game with what appeared to be a wrist injury.

Head coach Mike Johnston indicated after the game that Comeau’s injury could be serious, causing the winger to join the growing ranks of injured Penguins.

His loss would be deeply felt among a Pittsburgh forward group that is quickly seeing its veteran talent drop out with injury or illness.

The Pens will await news on Comeau while preparing for the next match-up tomorrow against the Tampa Bay Lightning.