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Popping a Penguin // Panthers fire away

Boring. Defensive. Kings of icing the puck.

The Panthers had an answer Friday night for the critics harping Florida was too dull to be taking up space in hockey's final four.

The Panthers decided not to play defense in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final. Well, actually, they didn't have to because they were too busy shooting pucks at Pittsburgh goalie Tom Barrasso.

The no-name Panthers' attack had 61 shots on goal, the most by any team in the 1996 playoffs. Stu Barnes got two past Barrasso in the third period to break a 2-2 deadlock and propel Florida to a 5-2 victory at Miami Arena.

"Boredom is beautiful," Florida coach Doug MacLean said tongue-in-cheek. "I am a boring guy and I kind of like it."

Pittsburgh coach Eddie Johnston didn't think the game was beautiful. He called it "brutal."

"When you get 60 shots against you, that tells me you're not checking anybody. You're not hitting anybody . . . When you have your No. 1 player, (Mario) Lemieux, doing all the hitting, I mean that tells you something."

But despite being outshot 38-26 in the first two periods, the Penguins were tied.

In the understatement of the year, Lemieux said: "The third period cost us."

Barnes, who received six stitches over his left eye in the first period after being checked facefirst into the boards by Lemieux, scored 55 seconds into the third period on a rebound.

Four minutes later, Barnes gave Florida a 4-2 lead. Dave Lowry's strong forecheck forced Pittsburgh defenseman Francois Leroux to cough up the puck behind the Penguins' net. The puck went to Barnes, who held his ground in front of the crease. The 5-foot-10 center got off a backhand that trickled past Barrasso.

"I didn't know it went in until I saw Dave's hands go up," Barnes said.

Martin Straka added the exclamation point with the Panthers' fifth goal of the game.

Meanwhile, John Vanbiesbrouck could have taken a nap. Florida outshot the Panthers 20-0 before he had to make a save in the decisive final period.

The Panthers, who were asked over and over how they were going to stop the NHL's top two scorers (Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr), allowed only two shots on goal in the final period.

"We've been saying all along that we're a good offensive team, too," Vanbiesbrouck said. "We're just making people believers. But I don't think anyone planned for us to get 61 shots.

"I'm not a scorer so I don't know what was going on down at the other end. Ask Stu."

Barnes stepped to the lectern and said, "We knew we were too fancy in the last game (a 3-2 loss at Pittsburgh). We knew we had to put the puck on net and see what happens."

After five victories, the Penguins lost for the first time on the road in the playoffs. . It also was the first time a Penguins playoff opponent had more than 50 shots.

The Penguins mustered just 28 shots and two goals, by Bryan Smolinski and Petr Nedved.

The Penguins took a 2-1 lead just 27 seconds into the second period. But the tooth fairy must have answered Radek Dvorak's wish. The 19-year-old became the 15th Panther to score a playoff goal, getting his first of the post-season early in the second period to tie it at 2. In the first period, Dvorak lost three teeth after being high-sticked in the mouth by Sergei Zubov.

The Penguins are left figuring how to stop the Panthers' attack and jump-start their own.

"It's not like the series is over," Smolinski said. "It is just one game."

Super drought

Stars through most of the playoffs, Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr have come up short against the Panthers:



Jagr 3 6

Lemieux 2 8


Jagr 7 2

Lemieux 8 2


Jagr 1 1

Lemieux 1 1