Sabres win, 4-2, end Penguins' streak for second time this month


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It was debatable which team had less to play for.

The Penguins already had clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference and held onto a small chance of overtaking Chicago to finish first overall in the NHL. Buffalo already was an afterthought for the upcoming playoffs.

The Sabres mustered enough of an extra edge and got a late goal by Steve Ott for a 4-2 win Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center, staking claim to a role as Penguins streak-busters.

Buffalo won, 4-1, April 2 to end the Penguins' 15-game winning streak. Tuesday's game ended a seven-game winning streak for the Penguins.

"The first game they beat us here after the [earlier] winning streak was arguably our worst game of the year," Penguins center Brandon Sutter said. "I don't think that's too much of a measuring stick. But they played well both times in here."

Although the game cost the Penguins nothing in the standings, the one unspoken imperative was to get out of the game without losing anymore players to injury.

That was a loss as well. Defenseman Brooks Orpik did not play after the first period. The Penguins acknowledged Orpik was injured but did not elaborate beyond coach Dan Bylsma saying that Orpik will be further evaluated.

The Penguins got four players back who had missed one or more games -- center Evgeni Malkin (shoulder), defenseman Kris Letang (food poisoning), winger Beau Bennett (undisclosed) and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, whose wife is expecting their first child imminently.

Still out are center Sidney Crosby (jaw), winger James Neal (concussion) and defenseman Paul Martin (hand).

In something of a surprise, winger Tyler Kennedy was scratched.

The game originally was scheduled Saturday but was moved to Tuesday when the Penguins played a makeup game Saturday in Boston. The Penguins and Bruins moved their game from Friday night because of the manhunt for one of the suspects in the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings.

Despite the loss, the Penguins have won 22 of their past 25 games with two remaining in the regular season -- Thursday at New Jersey and Saturday at home against Carolina -- before the playoffs begin next week against the team that finishes with the eighth seed in the East.

"I'm glad we didn't play like this our last game leading into the playoffs," Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "Two more to get tuned up.

"The thing that we need to continue to focus on over the next couple [of games] is preparation for next week -- the way we play, execute and keep building toward that with that first round in mind."

The Penguins might have played against one of the faces of the Sabres' franchise for the final time in that uniform.

Goaltender Ryan Miller, who made 40 saves, was playing in his 499th career game. He might not reach 500 this season or with Buffalo, though, because his relationship with the Sabres has soured. They might opt to start backup Jhonas Enroth in their season finale Friday at home against the New York Islanders. In fact, there is speculation that this might have been Miller's final game with Buffalo.

At the other end, Fleury made 30 saves but had a four-game winning streak snapped as he was chasing his 249th career win. He is expected to play Thursday and Saturday, if personal circumstances allow, and could become the fourth-youngest goaltender to reach 250 wins.

The Sabres took a 1-0 lead at 12:49 of the first period when winger Thomas Vanek, set up in the slot, one-timed a centering pass from behind the net by center Cody Hodgson. Chris Kunitz tied it, 1-1, for the Penguins 20 seconds later when his shot from the top of the left circle dribbled in off Miller's glove.

Andrej Sekera thought he gave the Sabres the lead at 6:25 of the second period, but it was negated by a goaltender-interference call against Vanek. It wasn't until 6:11 of the third that Jochen Hecht gave Buffalo that 2-1 lead.

Jarome Iginla tied it, 2-2, for the Penguins with a power-play goal at 11:02 of the third period.

Ott got the winner at 17:26 of the third period. He knocked a rebound out of the air over Fleury. The play was reviewed to see if Ott played it with a high stick, but the goal stood.

"Tough call," Fleury said. "Seems pretty high. It was borderline, but I guess they looked at it and thought it was good."

Vanek scored into an empty net with 32.4 seconds left to make it 4-2.

With 70 points, the Penguins remain three behind the Blackhawks for the NHL lead. Each team has two games left.

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For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published April 24, 2013 4:00 AM


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