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PENGUINS PULL EVEN BY NIPPING PANTHERS

A little desperation did wonders for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Coming off what may have been their worst game of the season, the Pittsburgh Penguins evened the Eastern Conference finals by beating the Florida Panthers 2-1 Sunday on Bryan Smolinski's goal with 3:31 left."We were like a desperate team," Penguins captain Mario Lemieux said. "We didn't want to go back home down 3-1. Maybe we should be desperate more often."

The best-of-7 series, tied 2-2, resumes Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Florida claimed the winning goal should have been discounted because Smolinski had plowed through defenseman Gord Murphy to get to the net.

"He got knocked over," said an angry Florida coach Doug MacLean. "He got knocked off his feet and it was a tip-in goal. It was more than a pick, it was pretty obvious."

Brad Lauer had tied the score for Pittsburgh at 8:57 of the third period. Dave Lowry had put Florida ahead at 12:50 of the second with his team-leading 10th playoff goal.

Florida fans had few opportunities to practice their new tradition of throwing plastic rats after every Panthers goal. Instead, Penguins goaltender Tom Barrasso made 32 saves - many from close range - and only once had to take refuge from flying rats inside the net.

Florida had a final power play after Glen Murray was sent off for tripping at 17:28 of the third. The Panthers pulled goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck with 1:20 left but their power play was ineffective.

The Panthers' best chance came with Martin Straka's backhand in the crease, but it was stopped by Barrasso.

"Tommy played excellent," Pittsburgh coach Eddie Johnston said. "He had his troubles the other night, but he seems to thrive on adversity."

The Panthers beat the Penguins 5-2 Friday night, getting a team-record 61 shots on goal in what Johnston called an embarrassment.

Frustrated with only three shots on goal all night, Lemieux set up the winner.

"Their superstars come back when they are embarrassed," said Florida defenseman Terry Carkner.

Lemieux skated down ice, beat Lowry and shot. Vanbiesbrouck blocked the puck, but he was left out of position.

Smolinski took the rebound and scored his fifth goal of the playoffs. The assist was Lemieux's 23rd point of the playoffs, leaving him second in scoring behind Colorado's Joe Sakic.

"I was just concentrating on Lemieux," said Vanbiesbrouck, who had 22 saves. "I had a feeling he was going to go to the other side and he did. There was no thought as to where the rebound went. It just went to the wrong guy."

Earlier in the period, the momentum of the game had changed in the Penguins' favor when the tying goal also came off a rebound.

Petr Nedved's shot was blocked by Murphy, but Lauer picked up the loose puck and scored under Vanbiesbrouck's arm. It was the first Pittsburgh goal in nearly 89 minutes.

"We didn't want a repeat performance of the last game," Lauer said. "We seemed to fall asleep the other night so tonight we had just enough chances."

Florida dominated until midway through the third period, but flubbed several chances. The Panthers outshot the Penguins 16-5 in the second period, during which Pittsburgh went nearly 14 minutes without a shot on goal.

Lowry gave Florida a 1-0 lead at 12:50 of second when he redirected Carkner's wrist shot. His 10th playoff goal equaled his regular-season total.

But the Panthers' missed opportunities came back to haunt them, including two missed open nets by Straka. More than once, a Panther was left alone in the crease only to be negated by Barrasso.

"We had great chances in the second period and we didn't finish," MacLean said.

The Panthers said they would try to look at the positive things they did against Pittsburgh. Once again, they frustrated Pittsburgh's Jaromir Jagr, third in playoff scoring.