NEW YORK -- They have met 150 times in regular-season play and in two Stanley Cup playoff series, but the upcoming home-and-home match-up between the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins will be among the biggest games in the 37-year rivalry between these franchises separated by 200 miles.
The clubs meet for the first time in 2007-08 tomorrow night at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, followed by the AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo (1 p.m., ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio), the first NHL regular-season outdoor game to be staged in the United States.
A quick check of the tight Eastern Conference standings shows how important these games are. Thanks to Darryl Sydor's game-tying goal late in the third period and Sergei Gonchar's overtime strike in a 4-3 victory over Washington last night, the Penguins (19-16-2, 40 points) moved within three points of Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey and vaulted from ninth to sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings. The Penguins also leapfrogged the Sabres (19-15-1, 39 points), who dropped to the eighth and final playoff spot.
The Sabres and Penguins have played wide-open and evenly-matched hockey in their eight meetings since the start of the 2005-06 season. Seven of the eight games have been decided by two goals or fewer, including one in a shootout, two in overtime and two other one-goal decisions.
The Penguins' Sidney Crosby has tallied nine points (four goals, five assists) in eight games against the Sabres since 2005-06, followed by defensemen Sergei Gonchar (1-6--7) and Ryan Whitney (1-6--7). The Sabres are led by forwards Maxim Afinogenov (3-4--7) and Jochen Hecht (2-5--7).
Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller has made four appearances, posting a 2-1-1 record, 2.42 goals-against average and .913 save percentage. Buffalo's other netminder, Jocelyn Thibault, was a member of the Penguins the past two seasons. Pittsburgh goaltenders Ty Conklin and Dany Sabourin have not faced the Sabres in a Penguins uniform, although Conklin made five regular-season appearances for the Sabres in 2006-07.
Memorable games in their lifetime series includes the first regular-season game in Sabres history, a 2-1 Buffalo victory in Pittsburgh on Oct. 10, 1970, with the game-winning goal coming off the stick of 1970 first overall draft pick and future Hall of Famer Gilbert Perreault. In postseason play, the classic 2001 Eastern Conference Semifinal was decided in overtime of Game 7 on a goal by the Penguins' Darius Kasparaitis at 13:01 of overtime. Each of the series' final three games went to extra time.
Sabres-Penguins Since 2005-06
DATE SCORE SHOTS GOALTENDERS
10/10/2005 PIT 2 at BUF 3 (OT) BUF, 41-28 Fleury, Marc-Andre (PIT), Miller, Ryan (BUF)
11/29/2005 BUF 3 at PIT 2 PIT, 32-27 Fleury, Marc-Andre (PIT), Biron, Martin (BUF)
12/16/2005 BUF 4 at PIT 3 (OT) EVEN, 27-27 Fleury, Marc-Andre (PIT), Biron, Martin (BUF)
12/17/2005 PIT 3 at BUF 4 PIT, 33-29 Thibault, Jocelyn (PIT), Biron, Martin (BUF)
11/17/2006 PIT 2 at BUF 4 EVEN, 36-36 Thibault, Jocelyn (PIT), Biron, Martin (BUF)
01/05/2007 PIT 4 at BUF 2 BUF, 33-27 Fleury, Marc-Andre (PIT), Miller, Ryan (BUF)
03/13/2007 BUF 4 at PIT 5 (SO) PIT, 38-19 Fleury, Marc-Andre (PIT), Miller, Ryan (BUF)
04/03/2007 BUF 4 at PIT 1 BUF, 26-23 Fleury, Marc-Andre (PIT), Miller, Ryan (BUF)
GP G A P