Crosby, Malkin lead Penguins to 5-1 win over Sabres

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Sidney Crosby insists that it's nothing personal, and it's clear he respects the way Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller goes about his work.

He just has a funny way of showing it.

Crosby, who has gotten some of the most memorable goals of his career against Miller, victimized him again Wednesday night, scoring the go-ahead goal in what became a 5-1 Penguins victory at First Niagara Center.

With the score tied, 1-1, and the Penguins on a power play early in the second period, Crosby took a feed from defenseman Matt Niskanen, burst between Sabres defensemen Mike Weber and Christian Ehrhoff and skated to the inner edge of the left circle before throwing a shot past Miller high on the glove side.

"[Niskanen] made a nice, hard pass and gave me time to get through there," Crosby said. "It's not always pretty, sometimes, on those breakouts, but that one worked out well."

Things generally do for Crosby when he's matched against Miller.

That's the goalie he beat to end a shootout in the NHL's first Winter Classic, in 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium, and for Canada's gold medal-winning goal at the 2010 Olympics, when Miller starred for Team USA.

On the off-chance that Crosby's goal didn't provide Miller -- who is battling Jonathan Quick of Los Angeles for the job of Team USA's go-to goalie at the 2014 Olympics, which begin next week in Sochi, Russia -- enough fodder for some pre-Games nightmares, Evgeni Malkin gave him something else over which to agonize.

With the Penguins up, 2-1, late in the second period, Malkin carried the puck through the neutral zone and pushed it past Sabres defensemen Jamie McBain before breaking in on Miller, freezing him with a series of fakes and sliding a forehand shot into the net at 17:48 for his 17th goal this season.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who will run Team USA's bench in Sochi, acknowledged that "I couldn't help but think of [the Olympics] as Crosby went down on that breakaway against Miller" but said he didn't have mixed feelings about how that sequence played out.

"I was cheering the goal," he said. "This time."

The victory raised the Penguins' record to 40-15-2 in 57 games, easily the fewest they've needed to reach 40 victories. The previous record had been 65 games in 1995-96.

"It's something we talked about this morning," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "I don't know how much it means, but it was something to keep our focus before the [Olympic] break, at least.

"Oh, and our last five losses were against non-playoff teams. Those were our two motivational points."

The Penguins swept the season series from Buffalo, which likely isn't a surprise considering that they lead the Sabres by 44 points in the standings.

How great is the difference between these teams? Consider that if the Penguins were to lose all their remaining games and the Sabres would win all theirs -- admittedly, something of a long-shot parlay -- Buffalo would finish just eight points ahead of them.

The Sabres actually took a 1-0 lead -- something they had managed only 17 times in the previous 55 games -- when Drew Stafford jammed a shot past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury at 5:58 of the opening period, but Harry Zolnierczyk countered for the Penguins at 15:01, converting a feed from Craig Adams.

The second assist went to Crosby, extending his scoring streak against the Sabres to 17 games. He has at least one point in all 14 games he has played in Buffalo.

Zolnierczyk's goal sparked a run of five in a row by the Penguins, culminating in a couple in the third period that provided the Penguins' margin of victory.

Brian Gibbons grabbed the puck after Brandon Sutter won a faceoff and threw a shot past Miller from above the right dot at 5:22 of the third for this fourth this season and second in two games.

"He ... created a new faceoff play," Bylsma said.

James Neal, who is one of the candidates to replace injured Tampa Bay forward Steven Stamkos on the Canadian Olympic team, closed out the scoring at 12:12, taking a drop pass from Malkin and beating Miller from the slot.

Miller, the subject of rampant trade speculation, was uncharacteristically terse with reporters after the game, although Crosby absolved him of responsibility for the Sabres' loss.

"You can't blame him," Crosby said. "He held his team in it. We scored some nice goals tonight."

Including one by the guy who has gotten more than his share of them against Miller.

Dave Molinari: and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published February 5, 2014 10:11 PM

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