The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local Sports

April 23, 2013

Sabres slide past Fleury, Penguins

PITTSBURGH — At least Pittsburgh doesn’t have to worry about facing Buffalo in the playoffs. At the moment, the Sabres are the one team in the Eastern Conference that has found a way to beat the Penguins at home.

Thomas Vanek scored twice, Ryan Miller stopped 40 shots and Buffalo edged Pittsburgh 4-2 on Tuesday night for its second win at Consol Energy Center in as many visits.

Steve Ott gave the Sabres the lead for good when he batted a rebound out of the air past Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury with 2:34 left and Vanek added an empty-netter in the final minute.

Jochen Hecht also scored for the Sabres, who never trailed while snapping the Penguins’ seven-game winning streak. Pittsburgh has still won 22 of its last 25 games, but two of the losses have come to Buffalo, which is already out of postseason contention.

“Obviously we wanted to be in the playoffs, but that’s not going to happen but guys want to make sure they finish strong,” Buffalo coach Ron Rolston said. “Tonight was a good step in that direction.”

Chris Kunitz scored his 22nd goal for Pittsburgh and Jarome Iginla scored in his fourth straight game but it wasn’t enough. Fleury made 29 saves but failed to pick up his 23rd win.

The Penguins have already clinched the top seed in the East when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin next week and are in the process of getting healthy. The results against the Sabres were mixed at best.

Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin assisted on Iginla’s goal to pick up a point in his return after missing four games with a lingering shoulder injury but defenseman Brooks Orpik left after the first period with a lower-body injury.

Orpik will be re-evaluated on Wednesday, not exactly great news for a team already captain Sidney Crosby (broken jaw) and forward James Neal (concussion) along with defenseman Paul Martin (hand injury).

“We’ve been pretty physical lately and we’ve been skating well and I don’t think we did that quite as much,” Iginla said. “We gave up a few too many chances but at the same time we could have still found a way to get a better result.”

Still, the Penguins seemed to have things under control after Iginla tied the score 11:02 into the third period. Miller, playing in his 499th and perhaps last game with the Sabres, kept Buffalo in it until the Sabres finally went ahead for good behind some deft hand-eye coordination by Ott.

Fleury had just turned aside a shot from Mark Pysyk when the puck fluttered off his glove and out in front of the net, where Ott smacked it out of the air. Officials spent more than a minute reviewing the score to see if Ott’s stick was too high. The call stood and Vanek threw in an empty-netter to give the Sabres their second straight win over Pittsburgh and a second win over an Eastern Conference contender in the past week.

Buffalo edged the Boston Bruins last Wednesday but then followed it up with losses to the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets, the kind of inconsistent play that will keep the Sabres out of the postseason and could lead to some significant rebuilding.

“If you look at our whole season really, against top teams we played good hockey and against I’m not going to say lower teams but teams like the Florida and Tampa, we struggled to get wins and ultimately that’s our season right there,” Vanek said.

Pittsburgh appeared energized by the return of the league’s reigning MVP and dominated the early stages with Malkin looking in top form despite playing the first time in nearly two weeks. Buzzing the net with regularity, Malkin’s teammates seemed intent on setting him up for his ninth goal of the season.

Instead, the Sabres, playing for little, struck first.

Vanek put Buffalo up 12:49 into the game with a one-timer from between the circles thanks to a pretty feed from behind the net by Cody Hodgson.

The momentum lasted all of 20 seconds, or as long as Kunitz needed to take a pass from Brandon Sutter then wrist a shot off Miller’s glove and into the net to tie the score.

The Sabres moved back in front when Hecht beat Fleury with a shot from just inside the left faceoff dot 6:11 into the third. The Penguins, with nothing to play for other than an outside chance of catching the Blackhawks for the league’s best record, appeared ready to end a three-game in four-day stretch until Kris Letang found Iginla standing by himself at the top of the left circle.

Iginla responded with a slap shot that powered its way by Miller for Iginla’s fifth goal with Pittsburgh since coming over in a trade from Calgary last month. Buffalo, however, refused to buckle.

“We’ve been pretty physical lately and we’ve been skating well and I don’t think we did that quite as much,” Iginla said. “We gave up a few too many chances but at the same time we could have still found a way to get a better result.”

Notes: Pittsburgh plays in New Jersey on Thursday ... Buffalo ends the season at home against the New York Islanders on Friday.

 

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