PITTSBURGH, Pa. - Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins did enough work early on that they could afford to coast and look ahead to a showdown with rival Washington.
Crosby matched the second-longest NHL scoring streak in 18 years at 22 games with his first-period goal and the Penguins beat the Florida Panthers 5-2 on Wednesday night.
Crosby scored for the 28th time this season and 22nd time during the streak 7:44 into the game, giving the Penguins a 2-1 lead they wouldn't relinquish.
"The last few games we have done a pretty good job of starting well and creating a lot of pressure and generating a lot of shots early," said Crosby, who scored on a slap shot that beat Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun to the far side.
Crosby leads the NHL in scoring with 58 points (28 goals, 30 assists).
"But the last couple periods of this one weren't our greatest. We had the lead but we probably could have done a better job—I think partly mainly because we're thinking about tomorrow," Crosby said.
The Penguins came out strong early Wednesday with the game Thursday at Washington—a preview of the Winter Classic to be played at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field on Jan. 1—looming.
The teams are linked by superstars Crosby and Alex Ovechkin and the fact HBO is filming a reality series about them this month.
Pittsburgh took a 3-1 lead by taking 14 shots over the game's first 11 minutes, chasing Vokoun. The Penguins took a 4-1 lead on Ben Lovejoy's first career goal 6:19 into the second but were outshot 29-17 over the final two periods.
"We made it a lot closer than we needed it to be," Crosby said. "Partly because, I think, knowing that we play tomorrow night. I'm sure guys might have been secretly trying to save a little bit."
Mark Letestu, Matt Cooke and Pascal Dupuis also scored for Pittsburgh, which has won 14 of its past 16, recovering from a two-game losing streak last week with consecutive convincing victories.
Stephen Weiss and Bryan McCabe scored for Florida, which had won five of its previous seven.
"To spot a team three goals—any team—before you kind of get your game going, it's tough, let alone against these guys," said Scott Clemmensen, who replaced Vokoun in Florida's net. "It just became too much for us to climb out of."
Crosby's streak matched Dany Heatley's in 2005 as the longest since the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season. Mats Sundin of the Quebec Nordiques had points in 30 consecutive games during the 1992-93 season.
"The game was over in the first 10 minutes," Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said.
"They're a great team and obviously Crosby is a great player. I'm just disappointed we didn't give them more of a game."
Letestu scored 90 seconds into the game, his seventh goal of the season.
Weiss tied it 1:13 later on Florida's first shot of the game, a soft wrister from the left circle that Pittsburgh backup goalie Brent Johnson let in the far side between his glove hand and body.
Johnson would stop the remaining 20 he faced before not returning following the second intermission due to a groin injury. He likely will not dress for the Washington game.
Crosby and Cooke scored in a 3:13 span five minutes after Weiss' goal. Evgeni Malkin got the second assist on Cooke's goal, giving him at least a point in four consecutive games since missing four with a knee injury.
Lovejoy fought for the first time in the NHL during the first period, and his first goal in 31 career games was an unassisted tally 6:19 into the second.
He did not play the final 3:46 after a slap shot by McCabe struck him just below the left eye 10 seconds before McCabe's similar-looking shot from the left point produced a goal, his fifth, that made it 4-2 before Dupuis' empty-netter.
"It was a big night," Lovejoy said after receiving several stitches. "Certainly a fun game. It would've been nicer to not get that puck in the face, but it's fun to score."
Notes: Pittsburgh is 7-1 against Southeast Division teams. ... Florida is 3-13 when its opponent scores first. ... The Panthers entered the game with the league's worst powerplay and went 0-for-3. The Penguins have the top-ranked penalty kill. ... Weiss has a four-game point streak.