PITTSBURGH — Matt Murray stopped 36 shots to remain unbeaten since his return from a lower-body injury, Riley Sheahan and Bryan Rust scored short-handed goals in the second period and the Pittsburgh Penguins stopped the Florida Panthers 5-1 on Tuesday night.
Murray improved to 8-0 with a 1.24 goals-against average and a .966 save percentage in his last eight starts for Pittsburgh, which has won nine of 10. Rust finished with two goals to push his season total to 11. Tanner Pearson picked up his sixth and Sidney Crosby added his 20th for the Penguins, who beat the Panthers at home for the seventh straight time.
Aaron Ekblad collected his ninth of the season for Florida and the 62nd of his career to set a new franchise record for goals by a defenceman. The Panthers dominated play for long stretches only to be turned away repeatedly by Murray. Pittsburgh counterpunched expertly against Roberto Luongo, who finished with 12 saves on 16 shots before being pulled after Sheahan’s unassisted score 8:56 into the second period.
The Penguins saw their season-high eight-game winning streak end Sunday night against Chicago but wasted little time getting back on track.
Pearson took a slick pass off the boards by Marcus Pettersson and raced down the right side before slipping the puck between Luongo’s legs 1:29 into the game. Rust doubled the lead 94 seconds later, collecting a feed from Jake Guentzel in front of the Florida net and deking by Luongo before tumbling into the net.
The Panthers did their best to retaliate thanks in part to some sloppy play in the defensive end by the Penguins. Yet the 24-year-old Murray — who struggled with both injuries and inconsistent play during the opening two months of the season — kept Pittsburgh’s advantage intact with occasionally spectacular play. He stopped a short-handed breakaway by Colton Sceviour near the end of a busy first period in which Murray faced 15 shots.
While Pittsburgh’s electric power play looked listless, the penalty killers made up for it. Matt Cullen and Rust broke in 2-on-2, a sequence that ended with Cullen hitting Rust in front of the net and Rust beating Luongo to make it 3-0 just 3:04 into the second. Sheahan pushed it to 4-0 less than six minutes later when he stripped the puck from Florida’s Keith Yandle, skated high into the Florida zone and whipped a wrist shot from the slot over Luongo’s glove.
Ekblad appeared to get Florida on the board moments later, but his one-timer was overturned on replay after Pittsburgh successfully challenged that the Panthers entered the offensive zone offsides. The 22-year-old’s point shot with 44 seconds left in the second did count, pushing him past Robert Svehla for the most career goals by a Florida defenceman.
It just wasn’t nearly enough on a night the Panthers couldn’t seem to get a read on Murray.
NOTES: The last time the Penguins had multiple short-handed goals in a game was on March 29, 2016 against Buffalo. … Florida fell to 9-11-2 on the road. … Pittsburgh F Patric Hornqvist left in the first period and did not return after getting hit with a puck. … Crosby has 20 goals in 12 straight seasons, tying a franchise record set held by team owner and Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux. … Both teams went 0 for 4 on the power play.
Panthers: Continue a five-game road swing on Thursday in Edmonton.
Penguins: Begin a five-game West Coast trip on Friday in Anaheim.
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Will Graves, The Associated Press