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Dec 20, 10:34 PM EST

Pouliot scores in debut, Pens beat Panthers 3-1


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AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
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PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Derrick Pouliot scored in his NHL debut and Sidney Crosby ended his drought with a third-period goal for the Pittsburgh Penguins in their 3-1 victory over the Florida Panthers on Saturday night.

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 45 shots for his fifth win in six games and 19th overall.

Pouliot, a prized prospect on defense, scored the eventual game-winner in the first period after he was recalled on Saturday. Nick Spaling netted his fifth for the Penguins, who won a season-high fifth straight game at home.

Pittsburgh has defeated Florida in 12 of the last 14 meetings at home and 21 of 29 overall.

Pittsburgh native Vincent Trocheck, a healthy scratch the previous two games, scored his third of the season for the Panthers, who went to overtime in their previous four games.

Roberto Luongo made 31 saves for Florida.

Crosby scored his 10th goal of the season and first in nine games. Crosby, who returned after missing three games with the mumps, remains among the league leaders in scoring despite recording just three points in his last seven games.

Crosby redirected a pass from Kris Letang over Luongo's pad at 7:01 of the third, giving Pittsburgh a two-goal lead just seconds after the Panthers hit the post, looking for the equalizer.

Pouliot, who leads the team's Wilkes-Barre AHL affiliate in scoring, made his debut while Christian Ehrhoff and Paul Martin missed the game with undisclosed injuries. Pouliot joined Scott Harrington and Brian Dumoulin - two of Pittsburgh's other highly touted young blue-liners - with Olli Maatta and Robert Bortuzzo sidelined because of upper-body injuries.

Top-line winger Chris Kunitz returned to a Penguins team battling injuries and a recent bout with the mumps after missing eight games with a broken foot.

Florida is off to its best start since the 2011-12 season when the Panthers won the Southeast Division and last reached the playoffs.

The Panthers needed overtime in five of their previous seven games, including a league-record, 20-round shootout Tuesday against Washington. Florida, with an NHL-high 13 games past regulation, went to overtime in its previous four, winning three via shootout.

The teams combined for 36 shots and 15 penalties totaling 38 minutes during a contentious opening period.

Pittsburgh scored 1:48 into the game as Luongo had trouble trying to glove Spaling's fluttering wrist shot from just below the blue line.

Pouliot netted his first NHL goal soon after. The rookie was wide open, sneaking behind the play from the blue line to the right faceoff dot, when he took a pass from Steve Downie and beat Luongo with an under-the-crossbar wrist shot.

Florida pulled within one 35 seconds later when Trocheck tipped Jonathan Huberdeau's shot underneath Fleury's blocker.

Pittsburgh nearly took a two-goal lead when Kunitz rung a backhander off the left post during a breakaway and Malkin followed with the same. The sequence set off a scrum in front of the net, a pattern that continued throughout the period as six roughing penalties and two fighting majors were issued.

Things were quieter during a scoreless second period as Pittsburgh failed to capitalize on a pair of power-play chances and Florida's Aaron Ekblad hit the post at the end of the period.

NOTES: Ekblad passed Dmitry Kulikov for the franchise assist record for a rookie defenseman. . Panthers forward Brad Boyes played after missing Thursday's game with an upper-body injury. . Pouliot became the fifth player to make his NHL debut with the Penguins this month. . Panthers D Erik Gudbranson played in his 200th career game. . Pittsburgh scratched Rob Klinkhammer, Craig Adams and Taylor Chorney. . Florida scratches were Jimmy Hayes and Brandon Pirri. . The teams meet again Monday in Florida.

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