For the second time in just over twenty-four hours, the Penguins hit the ice, this time taking on the Buffalo Sabres. With the post-season less than a week away, the Penguins continue to climb toward the top of the league, chasing the President’s Trophy. Sitting first in the East, they’d already locked in home ice advantage heading into the playoffs. Buffalo, however, was simply riding their season down, having already been eliminated from the playoffs this season. Pittsburgh was looking to continue on with their 8th win in a row while Buffalo, having ended Pittsburgh’s 15-game March win streak, were looking to repeat history and end another one.
Pittsburgh, with Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang both back in the lineup, had the early jump in the game, owning the ice and controlling play through the first half. In spite of their speed and dominance, the Sabres were first to get on the board, the goal coming with 7:11 left in the first frame. Tomas Vanek beat Marc-Andre Fleury in the slot, his one-timer moving past the net-minder before he could react. Chris Kunitz responded just twenty seconds later, carrying the puck down the far side before shooting. Miller would make the initial save but the puck would bounce off Ryan Miller and dribble into the netting. It would stay tied heading into the second, the shots 12 to 11 in favour of Pittsburgh.
Early on in the second, the Sabres thought they took the lead but the goal was immediately waved off as Vanek was whistled for interference. However, Jussi Jokinen was also whistled for a hold, negating the power play resulting in some four-on-four play. Neither team would capitalize. Kris Letang would take a hit half through the second period, a lovely welt forming on his face. He would head down the runway but returned shortly thereafter, which was good for the defence as they were already short Brooks Orpik who left in the first without any explanation. (During the third, it was announced Oprik had a lower body injury.) With 2:16 left in the second, Mike Weber was whistled for a hold, sending the Penguins to the PP once again. Buffalo’s Steve Ott was given a ten minutes misconduct, shortening the Sabres bench until well into the third. Buffalo had no problem killing off Weber’s penalty, but Christian Ehrhoff would earn a penalty of his own, sending the Sabres back to the PK. The Penguins headed into the third with the man advantage while Buffalo held a 10 to 9 advantage of shots through the second frame.
Five minutes into the third, Johan Hecht set the Sabres ahead a goal but the lead was short live as Pittsburgh would respond six minutes later. With 9:30 left in regulation, Ehrhoff was whistled for a delay of game penalty, sending the Penguins to the power play yet again. This time, Jarome Iginla would capitalize, his one-timer blasting past Miller who was screened perfectly by Brenden Morrow, tying the game at two apiece. With 2:34 left in regulation, Steve Ott earned Buffalo’s third of the night. Despite a call to Toronto to review the goal and determine whether or not there was a high-stick on the play, the goal would count, and the Sabres took the lead. Fleury was pulled in favour of the empty net but it resulted in another Vanek goal, the Sabres ultimately taking the game 4 to 2.
Despite his trip to the locker room, Kris Letang led all skaters with 28:16 of ice time followed by Matt Niskanen with 22:25. Jarome Iginla registered 8 shots on goal while Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz each had 6. The Penguins sent 42 shots toward Miller while Fleury faced 32.
The Penguins continue to be without Sidney Crosby and James Neal, neither of whom have a time frame for return at this point. Paul Martin, sidelined with an upper body injury since March, has resumed skating with the team. With just two games left to go in the regular season, it is not known whether any of them will be ready to go for the first round of the playoffs.
The Penguins will hit the road again, this time heading to New Jersey to face off against the Devils on Thursday. Game time is 7:30pm.