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Second-Period Flameout Dooms Penguins Against Florida, 5-2



Mike Sullivan generally is pleased when the Pittsburgh Penguins play low-event hockey, so he probably didn’t mind the way the first period of their game against Florida at PPG Paints Arena played out Wednesday night.

There’s absolutely no doubt that he liked it a lot more than the one that followed.

The Penguins. who had held the Panthers to four shots in the opening 20 minutes, gave them four goals in the first 13:04 of the second, eliminating any suspense about the outcome of what became a 5-2 Florida victory.

It was the Penguins’ third consecutive loss in regulation — the only other time that happened this season was Oct. 18-24 — and dropped their record to 23-20-7.

Jake Guentzel, who initially was credited with scoring the Penguins’ first goal — it was changed to Bryan Rust after the game — left during the third period and did not return. There was no immediate word on any injury that he might have.

With forwards Noel Acciari, Jansen Harkins and Matt Nieto injured and not enough salary-cap space available to recall a forward from their farm team in Wilkes-Barre, the Penguins dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen.

The Penguins didn’t record a shot on Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky until nine minutes into the opening period, four seconds after Panthers winger Ryan Lomberg picked up a delay-of-game minor.

That infraction was utterly unnecessary — Lomberg was under no particular pressure and was perhaps one stride from carrying the puck across the Panthers’ blue line when he opted to air-mail it over the glass in the neutral zone — but the Penguins never threatened to turn that gift into a goal.

They got another chance with the extra man when Panthers defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson was sent off for cross-checking at 17:14. The Penguins failed to generate a shot on goal — let alone put one in goal — while Ekman-Larsson was in the penalty box.

The Penguins appeared to score a man-advantage goal at 2:32 of the second, when Rickard Rakell backhanded in a loose puck from left of the crease.

The Panthers challenged the goal, however, contending that the Penguins had touched the puck with a high stick while Bobrovsky was attempting to catch it, and a video review confirmed that Lars Eller had been guilty of doing that.

Things quickly deteriorated for the Penguins from there.

Six seconds after Evan Rodrigues’ penalty expired, he set up Matthew Tkachuk during a 2-on-1 break, and Tkachuk beat Tristan Jarry from the inner edge of the left circle to put Florida in front, 1-0.

It didn’t take long for the Panthers to double their lead, as Jonah Gadjovich fought off Penguins defenseman Chad Ruhwedel and deflected a Brandon Montour shot behind Jarry at 5:02.

The hole the Penguins were in began to resemble the Mariana Trench before the middle of the period.

Defenseman Marcus Pettersson was assessed a hooking minor at 6:45, and Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad made it 3-0 at 8:27, throwing a wrist shot past Jarry from above the right dot.

Any flicker of hope the Penguins had of getting back into the game was snuffed when Florida center Anton Lundell steered a Tkachuk feed by Jarry at 13:02.

The Penguins spoiled Bobrovsky’s shutout bid at 15:24, as Guentzel tossed a harmless-looking wrist shot through traffic and Rust tipped it in for his 14th of the season. Guentzel and Ryan Graves got the assists.

The goal was not without a measure of drama, though, as Florida challenged that the Penguins had interfered with Bobrovsky. This time, the review went in the Penguins’ favor.

The failed challenge cost the Panthers a delay-of-game minor, but given the state of the Penguins’ power play, that was a pretty low-risk move. And, predictably enough, the Penguins failed to score on that man-advantage.

Jarry denied Tkachuk on a breakaway with about 2:15 to go before the intermission, and Letang flattened Tkachuk when he tried to put in the rebound, picking up a cross-checking minor.

Lundell countered that with his second of the game at 5:35 of the third, but former Panthers prospect John Ludvig, claimed off waivers by the Penguins in October, beat Bobrovsky from above the right dot at 6:07 for his first goal in the NHL. Assists went to Drew O’Connor and Eller.

The Pittsburgh Penguins will visit Chicago Thursday at 8:38 p.m. Eastern. They are 6-1 in the second game when playing on consecutive days this season.