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Pittsburgh didn't need goals from Sidney Crosby to earn two wins over the Florida Panthers last season. The Penguins have also had success without their star finding the back of the net in regulation over the past two weeks.
With Crosby contributing by setting up teammates, the red-hot Penguins look to win three straight against the Panthers for the first time in nearly a decade when the teams open their season series Saturday.
Crosby did not score a goal, but had two assists as Pittsburgh won its final two games against Florida last season after dropping the teams' first two contests. The Penguins (22-16-2) haven't beaten the Panthers (19-19-3) three straight times since a three-game run during the 1998-99 season.
Before winning the last two meetings, Pittsburgh had lost 14 of its previous 15 games versus Florida.
Crosby, second on the Penguins with 16 goals, hasn't scored in regulation in six games. The third-year center, however, has registered an assist in six straight games, totaling nine over that span, and the Penguins have won a season-high five in a row.
Pittsburgh is 14-5-0 since it was a season-worst 8-11-2 on Nov. 21.
Evgeni Malkin has shouldered the scoring load for the Penguins, scoring seven of his team-high 18 goals in his last seven games. On Thursday night, the second-year center had his first career hat trick to lead Pittsburgh to a 6-2 win over Toronto.
"The team winning is the best feeling," said Malkin, last season's NHL rookie of the year. "The team is winning games. We're playing better and better every game."
Crosby had two assists Thursday, both of which set up Malkin goals. Malkin has scored 11 of his goals this season at home, where the Penguins have won four straight.
"Once he gets one, he wants to get two and thereafter, too," Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik said of Malkin.
Pittsburgh didn't appear weary Thursday after a physically demanding 2-1 Winter Classic shootout victory Tuesday in Buffalo, the NHL's first regular-season outdoor game in the United States. Crosby scored the winning goal in the shootout.
Florida, meanwhile, will be playing its third game in four days. Jassen Cullimore's goal 1:37 into overtime gave the Panthers a 4-3 victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday night, snapping a three-game losing streak.
Strong play on the road has helped Florida remain in contention in the Southeast Division. The Panthers are 8-2-0 away from home after going 2-8-1 in road games through Nov. 17.
The way they won Thursday was somewhat of a surprise. Cullimore has only 21 goals in 667 games, but seven of them have been game-winners.
"I make them count," said Cullimore, who scored for the first time since Oct. 31, 2006 against the Islanders.
David Booth added a goal and an assist Thursday, while Craig Anderson got his first win of the season with 38 saves. Booth has scored in his last two games, giving him goals in consecutive games for the second time this season.
Anderson, meanwhile, will likely be back on the bench. Tomas Vokoun was given a night off after starting 12 straight games, and losing the last three. Vokoun is 5-3-0 with two ties and a 2.35 goals-against average in 10 games versus the Penguins.