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Popping a Penguin // Panthers pass torch

The question entering the series was how were the Florida Panthers going to stop Pittsburgh's dynamic duo of Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr.

The question should have been how are the Penguins going to stop the Panthers' no-name attack, which hits you from all directions all at once.

Every game a different Panther carries the hero's torch. Friday night it was Stu Barnes' turn.

The 5-foot-10 center was smashed into the boards facefirst in the opening period by Lemieux. He got up, with blood pouring from a cut above his eye. He also got even.

Barnes scored back-to-back goals in the final period to break a 2-2 deadlock and propel the Panthers to a 5-2 victory over the Penguins in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final.

The victory at Miami Arena gave the Panthers a 2-1 lead in the series, with Game 4 Sunday, also at Miami Arena.

It was the Penguins' first loss of the playoffs on the road. They entered the game 5-0, the only team without a road blemish.

All week the Panthers defended themselves, saying they did not play "boring" hockey, which translates into "defensive-minded" hockey.

Defensive?

The Panthers dominated the Penguins in the decisive third period, outshooting them 20-0 before goalie John Vanbiesbrouck had to make a save.

Florida had 61 shots on goal for the game, the first time a Penguins opponent ever has had more than 50 shots in a playoff game.

Just 55 seconds into the third period, Barnes gave the Panthers the lead for good. With Dave Lowry in front of the net, a loose rebound squirted to Barnes in the high slot. He got off a knuckler that went high over the blocker of Barrasso, who was starting his second consecutive game after Ken Wregget got shelled 5-1 in Game 1.

Barnes got an insurance goal exactly four minutes later. After 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 net. Barnes got off a backhand that trickled past Barrasso.

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

The Penguins mustered just 28 shots and only two goals, by Bryan Smolinski and Petr Nedved. It was the second time the Panthers held Lemieux and Jagr goal-less in the series.

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 scored his first career playoff goal early in the second period to tie the game at 2. In the first period, Dvorak lost three teeth after being high-sticked in the mouth by Sergei Zubov.

How balanced is the Panthers' attack? Dvorak became the 15th Panther to score a goal in the playoffs.

The score remained tied entering the final period after the Panthers left Jagr shaking his head following a second period in which he had three great scoring chances and came up empty. On one, his tip hit the post. On another he had the puck all alone in front, but Vanbiesbrouck poked it away with his stick before Jagr could shoot. On the third chance, Vanbiesbrouck slid across the crease to rob Jagr on a three-on-two.

Florida, which entered the game outscoring opponents 15-5 in the first period, didn't waste any time getting on the scoreboard.

Ray Sheppard, acquired from San Jose at the trading deadline to provide some offensive punch, blasted a shot from just inside the blue line that beat Barrasso between his pads just 1:46 into the game. The rat storm came, giving Barrasso plenty of time to think about the soft goal.

The fast-paced game got physical early. Surprisingly, Mario Lemieux led the chippiness, elbowing Florida defenseman Robert Svehla and then swatting him in the face. Lemieux checked Barnes face first into the boards, opening a cut above Barnes' eye.

After the game, a brawl broke out that featured everybody going at it on the ice, including goalies Vanbiesbrouck and Barrasso.

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