The Pittsburgh Penguins showed who was the more desperate team this afternoon, handing the Buffalo Sabres a 4-3 loss at the First Niagara Center. With their victory, the Penguins made it eight consecutive wins over the Sabres and ended Buffalo’s modest four game point streak.
Pittsburgh currently holds the final playoff spot in the East and after coming off a loss to the Lightning the night before, they showed the urgency of getting two points from the Sabres.
The Sabres came out in the first period looking to get an early lead on the Penguins and with a strong forecheck, mustering several decent scoring opportunities. It was the Penguins that would grab the first lead of the game.
After some solid pressure from Buffalo deep in Pittsburgh’s territory, the Penguins broke out of their zone. The puck followed Sidney Crosby into the corner to the left of Buffalo goalie Robin Lehner, where he passed it to Trevor Daley at the right point. Daley wristed a shot toward the net where Patric Hornqvist redirected the puck past the Sabres netminder for his 12th of the season and a 1-0 Pittsburgh lead.
Buffalo kept up the solid play throughout the period and at the 12:21 mark they found themselves on the power play. The first power play unit could not get organized, but once the second unit came on, the Sabres cashed in. Zach Bogosian carried the puck in to Pittsburgh’s zone where he slid a pass over to Mark Pysyk. Pysyk sent the puck in low to Brian Gionta who then sent it back to Bogosian. Bogosian wasted no time and blasted the puck into the top right portion of the net for his 2nd of the season.
The Penguins dominated the second period taking much of the play to the Sabres. Robin Lehner did his best to keep his team in the game with several difficult saves, but with steady pressure from the Pens, it wouldn’t last.
With Olli Maatta in the penalty box for interference and Jack Eichel off for cross-checking, the teams were playing 4-on-4. Johan Larsson broke his stick right off a faceoff deep in the Sabres’ zone, and the Penguins proceeded to put together a pretty three way passing play.
Pittsburgh continued to control play in the period and at the 17:50 mark of the period they added to their lead. After a poor clearing pass from Sam Reinhart that went off the skate of Evander Kane, Kris Letang grabbed the puck and sent a nice cross-ice pass to a wide open Phil Kessel who snapped in his 19th of the season. The second period ended with Pittsburgh holding a 3-1 lead.
The Sabres came into the third trying to pull within one of the Penguins. The team had several opportunities and finally got rewarded with a power play when Conor Sheary took a two minute penalty for tripping.
Things backfired for Buffalo shortly after when Matt Cullen picked up a loose puck at center ice and skated in on Robin Lehner. At first it looked like Lehner made the save, but his momentum helped carry the puck into the net for a 4-1 Penguins lead.
13 seconds later the Sabres answered back with a power play goal from Brian Gionta. After receiving a backhand pass from Matt Moulson along the boards, Bogosian blasted a shot from the left point where Gionta tipped it in for his eighth of the year.
The Sabres continued to apply the pressure through the period and with Lehner sitting on the bench in favor of the extra attacker, they pulled to within one. Rasmus Ristolainen passed the puck across the ice to Bogosian who blasted yet another shot from the blue line for his second goal and third point of the game. The Sabres made it a 4-3 contest, but could pull any closer.
Next up for Buffalo will be a three game West coast swing that will start Wednesday night in Anaheim.