No Catch-22 here: Penguins 5, Panthers 2

PITTSBURGH PA - DECEMBER 22: Brent Johnson #1 of the Pittsburgh Penguins makes a save against the Florida Panthers at Consol Energy Center on December 22 2010 in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

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Sports talk was abuzz with worry that the Penguins were going to look past the Panthers toward the Capitals game the next night.  The Pens showed that those worries were unfounded tonight in a 5-2 rout.

The first period started off like a house afire.  Just 1:30 into the game, Mark Letestu buried a surprisingly pretty pass from Tyler Kennedy, and Chris Conner got the secondary assist.  Unfortunately, Brent Johnson allowed a soft goal by Stephen Weiss only 73 seconds later from Michael Frolik and Mike Weaver.

On everyone's minds, though, was Sidney Crosby's points streak.  He needed only one more game to match the longest streak since the lockout, that by Dany Heatley in 2005, at 22 games.  Before the first period was even halfway over, Sid streaked up the left wing and burned Tomas Vokoun with a slapshot.  Assisting on the goal were Chris Kunitz and Brent Johnson, his first point of the season.

This game was clearly not meant to be for Vokoun, in my opinion the best goalie since the lockout, when Maxime Talbot took an Evgeni Malkin rebound and passed it to Matt Cooke who flung a wrist shot through traffic that happened to find twine at 10:57 of the first period.  Florida coach Peter DeBoer apparently had enough, and decided Scott Clemmensen needed some work.  Ben Lovejoy, of all people, dropped the gloves for the first time in the NHL and danced a sprightly tango with Shawn Matthias, much to the confusion of everyone who witnessed it.

The first period ended with an interference call on Brooks Orpik, which got killed about a minute into the second.

Not quite seven minutes into the second period, Clemmensen finally cracked a bit when Ben Lovejoy notched his first career goal, unassisted, on a slapshot that deflected off Dennis Wideman's leg and into the net.  Other than a terrible showing in a fight from Michael Rupp, the rest of the period was uneventful.

Brent Johnson appeared to tweak his groin toward the end of the second period, however, after making a left pad save from the butterfly.  He did play the remainder of the period, but surrendered to Marc-Andre Fleury to start the third.  Fleury looked shaky to start, but managed to stay between the puck and the net while cold long enough to get his bearings despite being shelled early in the period by a Panthers team desperate to come from behind.

The game was getting into garbage time when two bad things happened.  The first was Lovejoy taking a shot off the visor.  He appeared to be cut below the eye;  hopefully nothing more serious happened.  The second was a boomer of a slapshot by Bryan McCabe found the net behind a well-screened Fleury to make the score 4-2.

Pascal Dupuis put the cap on the game with an empty net goal, assisted by Kris Letang and Chris Kunitz.

Come back for more fun against the Capitals Thursday at 7!

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