PITTSBURGH — Jake Guentzel scored on a breakaway 2:44 into overtime to lift the Pittsburgh Penguins past the Florida Panthers 3-2 on Tuesday night.
Guentzel took a lead pass from Sidney Crosby and slipped a backhand by Roberto Luongo for his second goal of the night and 33rd this season. Pittsburgh picked up two vital points as it tries to create some breathing room in its pursuit of a playoff berth.
Crosby finished with a goal and two assists on the night he became the 48th player in NHL history to reach 1,200 points. Matt Murray had 32 saves for the Penguins. Matt Cullen played 12:36 in his 1,500th career game.
Henrik Borgstrom and Vincent Trocheck scored for the Panthers but Florida dropped its fifth straight — four of them in overtime — when Guentzel found his way behind the defence and came in all alone on Luongo, who made 34 stops but couldn’t reach out and get his glove on Guentzel’s winner.
The 42-year-old Cullen — affectionately known as “Dad” on the club he helped win consecutive Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017 — joined some elite company more than a full generation after his NHL debut, becoming the second American-born player and 20th overall to reach the 1,500-game plateau. His teammates honoured him by wearing black jerseys with his familiar No. 7 in warmups, and Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel all helped present Cullen with a handful of gifts, including a silver stick and a Penguins-themed ATV.
A short video tribute ended by thanking Cullen for the memories while urging him to help create more. Fitting. The Penguins are in need of a memorable stretch to assure themselves a 13th straight post-season berth. Hardly a given for a talented if erratic club that’s spent the last five months mixing bursts of vintage play with lengthy stretches of mediocrity.
Facing a team whose playoff prospects are eroding by the day, it was more of the same.
Florida needed just 1:45 to take the lead when Borgstrom’s shot from the left circle was redirected into the net by Pittsburgh defenceman Erik Gudbranson. The Penguins pressed to tie it thanks in part to some spirited play by Kessel, who is riding a goalless streak that dates back to Jan. 30. Luongo fended off two quality chances from Kessel in the first period but Pittsburgh pulled even 16 seconds into the second when Mike Matheson’s turnover ended up on Crosby’s stick in the Florida zone.
Crosby tried to slip the puck to Jared McCann but it was poke-checked away. No matter. Guentzel jumped on the loose puck and beat Luongo from the slot. Crosby’s 55th assist of the season also made him the 48th NHL player to reach 1,200 points.
Crosby needed less than 10 minutes to pick up career point No. 1,201. With the Penguins on the power play, he threaded a pass to Kessel. Luongo made the stop but the rebound went right to Crosby, who pounded it home at 10:01 of the second period to reach 30 goals for the ninth time in his career.
Trocheck, a Pittsburgh native, evened it at 2 when his one-timer from the bottom of the left circle zipped past Murray with 2:29 to go in the second.
NOTES: Pittsburgh D Kris Letang skated in the morning but continues to wear a red “no contact” jersey while recovering from an upper-body injury that has sidelined him for the last four games. … The Penguins are the fourth NHL team to have two players reach 1,200 points with one franchise, joining Boston, Montreal and Detroit. … The Panthers went 1 for 3 on the power play. The Penguins were 1 for 2.
Panthers: Play at Boston on Thursday.
Penguins: Host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday. The Penguins have won each of the first two meetings between the Metropolitan Division rivals.
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Will Graves, The Associated Press