Sidney Crosby’s fight in the first period — against Keith Ballard after the defenceman’s big hit on Evgeni Malkin — may have been the spark the Panthers needed to beat Pittsburgh 4-2 last night.

Bryan McCabe and Rostislav Olesz each had a goal and an assist to lead the Panthers to the two-goal victory, handing the Penguins only their second regulation loss in 18 games.

Ballard said he expected a fight after the hit, though he thought it was clean. Crosby received a minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct and a major for fighting.

It was his second fight with a Florida player this season; he got into a scrap with Brett McLean during a Jan. 3 game against the Panthers.

Florida, vying for its first playoff berth in nine years, has 89 points with three games remaining. The New York Rangers currently hold the edge for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference over Florida because they have one more victory.

Marian Hossa scored in the final minute of the third period to lift the Detroit Red Wings to a 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild at Joe Louis Arena.

Hossa also picked up an assist for the Red Wings, who halted a three-game losing streak and earned their 50th victory of the season. Detroit reached the 50-win mark for the fourth straight campaign.

Jiri Hudler and Pavel Datsyuk also scored in the victory, while Chris Osgood made 21 saves. Tomas Holmstrom finished with a pair of assists for the Wings, who put a serious dent into Minnesota’s playoff hopes.

The Wild trail St. Louis and Nashville by three points in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

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