The Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh Penguins seemed to be pulling a Miami Heat-like late-season move by not playing four of their star players as they prepare for the upcoming playoffs.

However, even the Penguins' “B” squad was enough to squeak out a 3-1 chippy victory over an injury-decimated, rookie-laced Panthers group Saturday night at a sold-out BB&T Center.

The 32-10 Penguins have won four in a row and 19 of 21 as they strive to clinch home ice in the East, while their Eastern Conference opposite's 32 points are the lowest in the NHL.

The Panthers inched closer to possibly their third top-3 draft pick in four years before heading off for a four-game Northeast road swing.

Pittsburgh, who has already clinched the Atlantic Division crown, won two of three against Florida to take the season series for the fourth consecutive year.

The Penguins were without superstar Sidney Crosby (jaw), James Neal (concussion), Paul Martin (foot) and Hart Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin, who sustained an upper-body injury in Thursday's 6-3 win in Tampa.

"That's always a disappointment for the 18,000 people there tonight,'' Dineen said. "They want to see those premier players in the league. No different when you spent lots of bucks on a Heat game and you don't get to see [LeBron James] right now. That would add a little sting to it. I enjoy watching those good players play, but at the end of it, they've been down this road before, where they're missing their quality players and they always have a response.''
Malkin was also sporting a sunburn during morning skate that a Pittsburgh public relations spokesman adamantly denied as the rumored reason for his absence.

That's four of the Penguins' top five power play-goal producers out of the lineup. Unfortunately, the Panthers had seven first-year players in the lineup and went 0 for 4 on their recently-resurgent power play.

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen had a long one-on-one, on-ice conversation with oft-injured, slumping forward Scottie Upshall at morning skate.

Perhaps they should make it a daily conversation as Upshall, who hit anything that moved, made it 2-1 at 4:10 of the second period when he jammed in a rebound of Jack Skille's shot.

It was Upshall's third goal in 20 games.