Little goes right for the Penguins

Go 0 for 8 on the power play, as the Sabres post dominating 4-1 win and clinch the Eastern Conference title

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Yes, the Penguins' power play could have done more. Or done something, anyway.

They could have been a bit more opportunistic at even strength, too.

And it certainly wouldn't have hurt if the sheet of ice at Mellon Arena had been made more than about, oh, seven minutes before the opening faceoff.

So clearly, there were plenty of explanations for the Penguins' 4-1 loss to Buffalo last night.

But here's the best one: They were beaten by the best team in the Eastern Conference, perhaps in the NHL.

Buffalo clinched the top spot in the East last night, and will claim the Presidents' Trophy if it wins its remaining three games.

"They're definitely legitimate," Penguins right winger Mark Recchi said.

The Penguins (45-24-11) are, too, although this defeat went a long way toward assuring they will finish second in the Atlantic Division and fifth in the conference.

The Penguins trail first-place New Jersey by three points in the Atlantic, and are two behind Ottawa in the East. They can pull even with the Senators by winning in Ottawa tomorrow, but Ottawa still would have an edge in the victories tiebreaker and could lock up fourth place with a victory in Boston Saturday.

The Penguins played without defenseman Ryan Whitney, who is nursing a sore groin. Alain Nasreddine took his spot in the lineup, and Recchi filled in for him on the left point of the No. 1 power-play unit.

The Penguins were 0 for 8 with the extra man, including a five-on-three in the middle of the second period that lasted 27 seconds, after going 8 for 22 in the previous four games.

"If we put a couple in on those power plays, it's a little different game," center Sidney Crosby said.

The power play looked out of sync without Whitney, but Crosby said not having him is not a good excuse.

"There are going to be times when you're missing a guy on the first power play, whether it's [Whitney] or whether it's [Sergei Gonchar] or anybody," he said. "You still have to find ways."

Coach Michel Therrien said Whitney might return for the Ottawa game.

Gonchar responded to Whitney's absence with one of his worst performances of the season, and Crosby was shut out for the first time in the past five games. He has a 117-109 lead on San Jose center Joe Thornton in the NHL scoring race, although Thornton has a game in hand.

The Sabres have outstanding speed and skill, but their ability to disrupt the Penguins' attack at center ice went a long way toward dictating how the game played out.

"They were just so good in the neutral zone, we couldn't get anything going," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "Not on the forecheck or transition."

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said his team "didn't make a lot of mistakes," which was critical to neutralizing the Penguins' offense.

"We did the little things that allowed us to win against a team that, if you hand them opportunities, they'll burn you," he said.

Sabres defenseman Dmitri Kalinin opened the scoring at 10:59 of the first period, when his shot from the left point sailed past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, but Recchi countered 62 seconds later.

After Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller stopped a Jordan Staal shot from the right dot, the puck tumbled high into the air and Miller appeared to lose sight of it. Recchi charged toward the crease, and the puck went off his right skate and across the goal line for his first goal in 21 games.

"It doesn't matter," he said. "We lost. Who cares? I'd rather not score, and win."

Buffalo's Derek Roy got the winner at 2:10 of the second, backhanding in a shot from the bottom of the right circle.

A few seconds before Roy scored, Gonchar stepped up to hit Sabres winger Thomas Vanek at the Penguins' blue line. Vanek, however, curled around Gonchar and carried the puck into the attacking zone before slipping a pass to Drew Stafford.

Fleury stopped Stafford's shot, but Roy collected the rebound and flipped it into the net.

The Sabres put the game out of reach with two goals in 66 seconds apart early in the third. Vanek made it 3-1 when he swept in a Stafford rebound from the right side of the crease at 4:32, and Jason Pominville deflected a Jochen Hecht feed behind Fleury at 5:38 to close out the scoring.

"It was just a bad night for us," Therrien said. "I guess those things happen over the course of a season."

Especially when the Sabres have a way of bringing that out in teams.

Peter Diana, Post-Gazette photos
Sidney Crosby is knocked to the ice by Buffalo's Teppo Numminen in the second period last night at Mellon Arena.
Click photo for larger image.

More Coverage:

Penguins Notebook: Whitney misses his first game of season


Buffalo's Derek Roy, left, and Gary Roberts battle for loose puck in the third period.
Click photo for larger image.

Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com .


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