Just as defenseman Chris Pronger had been preaching, the Flyers played a hard 60 minutes tonight against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

In fact, it was even longer, considering that the scintillating game went into a shoot-out at the sold-out Wachovia Center.

But it did not produce a Flyers victory.

The Penguins scored a 3-2 shoot-out win, sending the Flyers to their 12th loss in their last 15 games.

Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby scored in the shoot-out; Danny Briere and Claude Giroux were unsuccessful for the Flyers.

The goalies - the Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury and the Flyers' Brian Boucher - played brilliantly. Fleury made his 31st save as he stopped Mike Richards' wrap-around with 1.8 seconds left in overtime, forcing the shoot-out.

Just 27 seconds into overtime, Dan Carcillo and the Penguins' Brooks Orpik received slashing penalties, putting the teams in a highly unusual three-on-three situation.

All told, the Flyers outshot the Penguins, 33-30.

Two nights earlier, the Penguins embarrassed the visiting Flyers, 6-1, and caused the losers' captain, Richards, to proclaim: "We're not playing with enough heart to have success."

The Penguins entered that game rested, while the Flyers were playing for the second time in as many nights.

"I think it's a little bit more of an even playing field tonight," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said before the game. "We had to gas it up the night before in Boston while they were waiting. I'm anxious to see how we do. I think we'll be ready."

Jeff Carter was ready. Moved back to center after playing two games at right wing, Carter scored when he backhanded a rebound off defenseman Sergei Gonchar's right arm and then off the left post and into the net. Carter's 12th goal, just 1 minute, 15 seconds into the game, gave the Flyers a short-lived 1-0 lead.

Carter had four shots in the first period, which ended in a 1-1 tie because of a power-play goal by Bill Guerin about two and a half minutes after the Flyers had scored. Guerin scored on a rebound with Carcillo in the penalty box for high-sticking Crosby, who could have received a diving penalty for an acting job that would have made Jack Nicholson proud.

Early in the second period, Carcillo atoned for his penalty by maneuvering down low and firing a bad-angle shot from near the right goal line. Fleury made the save, but Giroux knocked in the rebound from the slot. The power-play goal gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead at 2:04 of the second period.

Crosby tied it at 2 on a power-play goal with 10:43 left in the second period. Pronger weakly cleared the puck onto the stick of Crosby, who fired a quick shot past Boucher from the right circle.

Fleury made a series of terrific saves later in the period to keep the score tied.

In a 15-second span, he did splits to stop a backhander from Arron Asham after the winger had broken in alone. The goalie then turned aside James van Riemsdyk's rebound, and made a great save on Carter out front.

The game marked the return of veteran center Blair Betts, who had not played since Nov. 21 after dislocating his right shoulder for the second time this season.

Betts said he was "just trying to get the rust out" early in the game.

"When you are out for as long as I was, you kind of forget about how fast the pace is when you are just basically practicing with the team," he said. "It is definitely a difficult thing."

Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at 215-854-5181 or scarchidi@phillynews.com.