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.
Brad Lauer tied the score for Pittsburgh at 8:57 of the third. Dave Lowry had put Florida ahead at 12:50 of the second with his team-leading 10th playoff goal.The best-of-7 series, tied 2-2, resumes Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.
Smolinski's goal was set up by Mario Lemieux, who skated down ice, beat Lowry and shot. Florida goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck blocked the puck, but was left was out of position.
Smolinski took the rebound and scored his fifth goal of the playoffs. It was Lemieux's 23rd point of the playoffs, leaving him second in scoring behind Colorado's Joe Sakic.
Florida had a final power play after Glen Murray was sent off for tripping at 17:28 of the third. The Panthers pulled Vanbiesbrouck with 1:20 left but their power play was ineffective. Florida's best chance came with Martin Straka's backhand in the crease, but it was stopped by goaltender Tom Barrasso, who had 32 saves.
Pittsburgh's tying goal also came off a rebound. Petr Nedved's shot was blocked by defenseman Gord Murphy, but Lauer picked up the loose puck and scored under Vanbiesbrouck's arm.
It was the first Pittsburgh goal in nearly 89 minutes. The Panthers beat the Penguins 5-2 Friday night, getting a team-record 61 shots on goal.
The Penguins almost scored again after Lauer's goal. Tomas Sandstrom put the puck off Vanbiesbrouck's skate, and it was stopped on the goal line. After a video review, the play was ruled no goal.
Florida dominated the game until midway through the third period, but flubbed several scoring opportunities. 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 defenseman's Terry 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.
Pittsburgh's Jaromir Jagr, third in playoff scoring, appeared clearly frustrated. In the first period, he was sent to the ice twice by Panthers with a stick and a shoulder to the head.
After the second hit by Mike Hough at 9:02 of the first period, Jagr went to the bench, slammed his helmet down and took a cold towel to the back of his neck, appearing to be ill. He didn't return until there was a minute left in the opening period.
Lemieux and Jagr had their chances in the second period, though. Jagr was stoned by Vanbiesbrouck on a breakaway. Later, he fed Lemieux from behind the goal line, but a point-blank shot by the regular-season scoring leader was stopped by Vanbiesbrouck's pad save.
Vanbiesbrouck ended with 22 saves.
The Penguins were without left wing Dave Roche, who was suspended for one game for butt-ending Florida's Tom Fitzgerald during a Game 3 fight.