Florida Panthers\' Brett McLean, center, celebrates a short handed unassisted goal with teammate Rostislav Olesz, left, of the Czech Republic, in the second period of NHL hockey action against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2008. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Gene J. Puskar
PITTSBURGH - The Pittsburgh Penguins seem to save their best for last.
Ryan Malone scored twice in the final 3:20 as the Penguins erased a two-goal deficit in the third period for a 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night. "Off the bat, for whatever reason, it takes us a while to get going and sooner or later that might come back to bite us," said Malone, who has 11 points in his past nine games. "But right now, we're happy with the two points. That was the main thing tonight, to get the W."
Colby Armstrong also scored and Evgeni Malkin had two assists to take over the NHL's scoring lead for the Penguins, who tied idle New Jersey for the Atlantic Division lead.
David Booth and Brett McLean each scored for the Panthers, who have lost four of their last five.
Pittsburgh improved to 15-16-1 when an opponent scores first and won for the ninth time when trailing after one period and for the sixth time when behind heading into the third.
"We got it going eventually; we knew we could do it," Armstrong said. "I don't think anyone in here panicked. We might have gotten a little flustered there in the second period, but nobody panicked. It was a team effort in the third period, but we have to start playing 60 minutes.
The winner was scored after a scrum in front of the net. Malone took the puck from the right-wing circle to the net, and it found its way under Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun with 22.4 seconds to play. The Penguins were on the power play after Malkin drew a hooking penalty from Florida defenceman Jay Bouwmeester.
"I knew there wasn't too much time left, so I tried to bring it to the net," Malone said. "Actually, I kind of lost it there and got a nice little bounce. I'll take it."
Malone had tied it with another fortuitous bounce 2:57 earlier when he deflected in Ryan Whitney's wrist shot from the left circle.
"I just tried to go to the net, and I have been telling (Whitney) to keep aiming for my shin pads," Malone said. "And he hit it right off my shin pads. I'll take that every time."
Malkin had the second assist on that goal and had picked up the primary assist when Armstrong pulled the Penguins to within one 4:43 into the third. Just seven seconds after a penalty to Pittsburgh ended, Malkin fed Armstrong, who fired a wrist shot over Vokoun's right shoulder.
Malkin had his five-game goal streak was snapped, but he has 79 points to move one ahead of fellow Russian Alexander Ovechkin atop the league's scoring list.
"I'm pretty tired right now, so I don't really care about that," Malkin said through an interpreter after the game. "It's just another game. (But) it's great if my name is in the paper more."
Malkin has a nine-game points streak and has 27 points in the 14 games Sidney Crosby has been out with an injured ankle. He has scored in all but one of those games as Pittsburgh has gone 8-4-2 in that time.
"When the game is on the line, you want your best player to be the best," Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien said. "The game was on the line in the third period, and Malkin was outstanding. He wanted to win."
Booth, who has eight points in his past nine games, scored his 18th of the season to open the scoring with 3:36 left in the first.
"We stuck to our game plan early and often and were doing the little things correctly," Florida defenceman Bryan Allen said. "But for whatever reason, we're kind of almost scared out there to play confident and stick to the system, and we turned the puck over and missed assignments and then the puck is in the net a few times."
McLean scored 12:18 into the second to give Florida a 2-0 lead. While on the power play, a pass from Pittsburgh's Jeff Taffe wasn't handled properly by Darryl Sydor. McLean stole the puck at his own blue line and had a breakaway - Sydor was signalled to be called for hooking - and beat Conklin stick side for the second short-handed goal of his career.
"I thought that we were (in control of the game)," Panthers defenceman Ruslan Salei said. "We just have to learn how to protect the lead and have to play the same way for 60 minutes. For some reason, we get a little bit scared, afraid to make mistakes."
Notes: Florida was 16-3-2 when leading after two periods. ... Mclean's goal was the Panthers' third while short-handed this season. Pittsburgh has allowed four short-handed goals. ... The Panthers have scored only three goals in three meetings with the Penguins this season. ... Armstrong has a three-game points streak, his third of at least that length this season.