Pittsburgh Penguins Outlast the Buffalo Sabres

Mar 29, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Buffalo Sabres goalie Chad Johnson (31) makes a save against Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 29, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Buffalo Sabres goalie Chad Johnson (31) makes a save against Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

While the Pittsburgh Penguins are looking to lock up a playoff spot, the Buffalo Sabres are playing for pride at this point of the season. Former Pens’ Head Coach Dan Bylsma and his Sabres team were in Pittsburgh for a late season tilt on Tuesday night.

Having played net in several consecutive games for the Penguins, with big wins over New York, Detroit and Washington, Marc-Andre Fleury was given a rest in favor of Matt Murray. A smart move by Mike Sullivan. Considering how well the Pens have been playing (notwithstanding the game against New Jersey), Fleury was due for some time on the pine.

Not having had much action lately may have hampered Matt Murray however. The Sabres got off to a strong start in the first stanza, netting three goals before the Penguins could get on the board. Pittsburgh had the lion’s share of shots, but Buffalo was able to get their fewer attempts past Murray, while Chad Johnson held the Pens at bay.

Matt Moulson got things started for Buffalo, while the Sabres had a powerplay midway through the first. Sitting in the slot, Moulson backhanded a loose puck past a sprawling Murray to give his team the 1-0 lead. That was Moulson’s first goal since February 16, and his sixth on the season.

Goal number two for the Sabres came from the hirsute Ryan O’Reilly. Starting the rush from the Sabres’ zone while shorthanded, O’Reilly poked the puck loose at the blue line before passing to David Legwand.  A shot from Legwand snuck through the five hole of Murray and was slowly creeping towards the goal line. As Trevor Daley swiped the puck away from the net, O’Reilly grabbed it and flipped it into the net for the 2-0 Buffalo lead.  

With just over a minute remaining in the first, the Sabres’ Jake McCabe put his team up 3-0. Crossing in front of the net, McCabe faked forehand before taking the puck backhand and beating Murray all alone.

As poor as the first period was for Pittsburgh, just like the recent game against the Detroit Red Wings, the second period belonged to the Pens. Things got started at 1:28 of the second stanza, when the Pens had a 3-on-2 rush coming into the Sabres’ zone. The recently returned Ben Lovejoy took a pass on the left wing from Bryan Rust and was able to bounce the puck off of Chad Johnson and into the net to get Pittsburgh on the board. It was quite a pretty break by the Penguins actually, with all three attackers moving in quickly.

Pittsburgh got their second tally of the evening when Conor Sheary stole the puck and beat Johnson. At 5:55 in the second period, Sheary sent the puck across Johnson and into the far side of the net. The score was now 3-2.  

At the end of the period, while Eric Fehr was in the box for tripping, the Pens turned on the jets once more. Tom Kuhnhackl took a pass from Matt Cullen on a 2-on-1 break and beat Johnson to tie the game up. Less than thirty seconds later, the Pens were ahead. Still shorthanded, Carl Hagelin made a sweet play behind the net to take the puck from Buffalo’s netminder, redirecting it to Nick Bonino who had a wide open net in which to deposit the biscuit. The Penguins aggressiveness was now starting to pay dividends.

Buffalo wasn’t going to give up so easy however. While on the powerplay, with Ben Lovejoy called for holding, the Sabres evened the contest up. Zach Bogosian took a cross-ice pass from Johan Larsson and scored at 2:13 of the third.

Once things were knotted up the game got tight. Neither team could find an edge and the festivities went into extra time. The five minutes of overtime wouldn’t settle the score, so it was on to the shootout. Once there, the Pens relied on two of their best shooters to win the game for them.

While Murray did his job in turning away the Sabres, Kris Letang got the first puck into the net for Pittsburgh. Closing out the contest for the Pens was their off-season acquisition and one of the best snipers in the game, Phil Kessel, who has looked strong for Pittsburgh of late.

It wasn’t the smoothest game for the Pens, but they got the job done. Hand it to them for battling back from a three goal deficit and sticking through it to get the extra point. Not all games will be blowouts and this one certainly wasn’t. This kind of win might be more satisfying for both the team and their fans though, because it shows that the Pens won’t give up. They will keep fighting until they come out victorious. Next up for the Pens will be a visit from the Nashville Predators on Thursday night.