John Heller, Post-Gazette photos
Erik Christensen gets the first shootout goal against the Sabres in the Penguins' 5-4 win last night at Mellon Arena.
The agreement that saved NHL hockey in this city was announced late yesterday afternoon.
A few hours later, the Penguins and Buffalo Sabres showed why it was worth all the trouble.John Heller, Post-Gazette
Audio: Mario Lemieux tells the Mellon Arena crowd that their Penguins will stay in Pittsburgh.
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If the Penguins' 5-4 shootout victory at Mellon Arena wasn't a playoff preview -- regardless of the round in which it would take place -- it's too bad, because those teams shoehorned a lot of speed and skill and seriously entertaining hockey into 65-plus minutes.
The Penguins might not have fully appreciated it if they hadn't salvaged a second point -- after all, they were unable to hold a two-goal lead during the final eight minutes of regulation -- but that became a non-issue after Erik Christensen and Sidney Crosby beat Sabres goalie Ryan Miller during the shootout.
"It was a great game," Penguins right winger Mark Recchi said. "It was fast, there was some good hitting. We had our forechecking game going. We played the right way.
"It was a great effort by us. We deserved to win it in regulation, but they came back."
Well enough to earn a point, but not to get the second after Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury denied Daniel Briere and Thomas Vanek during the shootout.
The victory raised the Penguins' record to 38-21-10 and kept them one point behind fourth-place Ottawa in the Eastern Conference.
Penguins enforcer Georges Laraque missed the game because of back spasms and is questionable for the Penguins' game at New Jersey tonight at 7:38. Ronald Petrovicky replaced him last night.
Jason Pominville gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead at 16:27 of the opening period, when he threw his own rebound past Fleury from the right side of the net.
The Penguins countered 41 seconds later, however, as Ryan Malone steered a Sergei Gonchar shot behind Miller for his 15th goal.
Fleury preserved the tie with a brilliant save on Dainius Zubrus during a two-on-one break at 17:58. Briere fed a cross-ice pass to Zubrus near the bottom of the right circle, but Fleury got across the crease quickly enough to glove Zubrus' shot.
Referees Dave Jackson and Wes McCauley did not hand out a penalty until 10:39 of the second period, when Malone was sent off for hooking.
The Penguins registered the only two shots while Malone was in the box, and got a chance of their own with the extra man at 12:50, as Buffalo defenseman Henrik Tallinder was caught roughing.
The Sabres killed that, but the Penguins moved in front on a fluky goal by Maxime Talbot at 16:33. Talbot had the puck behind the Sabres' goal line and tried to throw it toward the front of the net. It ricocheted off the skate of defenseman Dmitri Kalinin, then struck the inside of Miller's right pad before skidding between his legs for Talbot's 10th.
Buffalo responded almost as quickly as the Penguins had in the first period, as Kalinin earned quick redemption for his role in the Talbot goal by converting a Chris Drury feed from the front lip of the crease at 18:17.
The Penguins had to settle for breaking even in the second period despite having a 15-2 advantage in shots, but moved back in front with a power-play goal early in the third.
Crosby scored it at 1:18 -- just 16 seconds after Drury was detected holding -- by directing a Recchi shot from the slot by Miller for his 29th.
The Penguins picked up another deflection goal during a man-advantage at 10:38, but this time is was an inadvertent one, as Gonchar's slap shot from the high slot caromed off the blade of Buffalo defenseman Toni Lydman and sailed behind Miller.
The Sabres, who had lost their previous three games, could have wilted after falling behind by two, but Briere revived them by scoring at 12:46. He took a feed from Jochen Hecht and broke down the slot alone before beating Fleury low on the glove side to make it 4-3.
Recchi came within a few centimeters of putting the game away during the final minute, but his shot at an empty net from center ice hit the right post, and that gave Buffalo the opening it needed, as Drury punched in a shot from the front edge of the crease with 6.2 seconds left to force overtime.
"I thought [the lead] was secure," Fleury said. "But they have good offensive guys, like us."
It was the Penguins' skilled players who came through in the shootout, though, adding an exclamation point to one of the most significant days in franchise history.
"We were all jacked up," Christensen said. "We knew the fans would be, because of the announcement that we're staying, and we really felt like we owed it to management and the coaching staff and a guy like Mario Lemieux and all the fans to play hard."
Brooks Orpik checks the Sabres' Drew Stafford to the ice in the first period last night.
Click photo for larger image.
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Postgame commentary from the Pittsburgh Penguins after Tuesday's 5-4 shootout win over Buffalo:
Ryan Whitney celebrates his assist of a Sergei Gonchar goal in the third period.
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Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com .