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Penguins back in action as Sabres pay visit

by Brian Hunter
SABRES (32-14-7) at PENGUINS (34-21-1)

Last 10: Buffalo 4-3-3; Pittsburgh 6-4-0

Season Series: Third of four meetings this season. Each team has won once at HSBC Arena in Buffalo. The Penguins drew first blood with a 2-1 shootout win on Dec. 19, with Kris Letang scoring the decisive goal. The Sabres responded for a 4-3 victory 10 days later, rallying from a 3-1 deficit. Drew Stafford scored a pair of goals and Paul Gaustad netted the game-winner.

Big Story: Pittsburgh plays its second nationally-televised game in as many days. On Sunday afternoon, the Penguins took on the Red Wings in a rematch of the past two Stanley Cup Finals and threw 47 shots at goalie Jimmy Howard only to find themselves locked in a 1-1 tie after 65 minutes. They finally prevailed 2-1 in the shootout in front of an appreciative home crowd and the NBC audience. Now they get right back to work against Northeast Division-leading Buffalo, with Versus televising the game in the U.S. and TSN2 in Canada.

Team Scope:

Sabres: A long road trip seemed to be taking its toll on Buffalo, which lost the final four of a seven-game trek, but the Sabres have responded well since returning home. They posted a 2-1 shootout win over the Devils on Wednesday and edged the Bruins by that same score on Friday. With the Senators currently on a nine-game winning streak and just five points out, the Sabres know they can't afford to let up.

"It's big for us to come home and get four big points," said Thomas Vanek, whose power-play goal against Boston was the game-winner. "The last two years we learned that we lost a lot of games in the last 20 minutes and it cost us the playoffs. We put a lot of emphasis on that in training camp and we're doing a good job so far."

Sunday marked the first game between Pittsburgh and Detroit since Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last June, and although the only thing at stake this time was two points, the action on the ice was still intense. Sidney Crosby and Dan Cleary traded goals in regulation and the teams battled all the way to a shootout, where Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both scored. The Penguins are 7-0 this season in the penalty-shot tiebreaker, and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury had a good feeling once they got there.

"I was confident with the guys we have here we could pull this one out," Fleury said. "It was a good time and we came out with a win."

Who's Hot: Buffalo's leading scorer, Tim Connolly, had his 16-game points streak snapped against New Jersey but came back with an assist against Boston and has seven goals and 19 assists over his last 18 games. Vanek has five goals and five assists in his last 11 games. Ryan Miller stopped 69 of 71 shots in the last two victories.

Crosby has 10 goals and nine assists in his last 12 games, while Malkin has six goals and six assists during a seven-game points streak. At least one of them has factored in on the last 17 goals for Pittsburgh.

Injury Report: Penguins forward Maxime Talbot, who scored both goals in the clinching Game 7 win over the Red Wings, missed Sunday's rematch with a groin injury. Forward Chris Kunitz is working his way back from abdominal surgery while forward Eric Godard is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with a groin injury.

Stat Pack:
Miller's next win will give him 30 for the fifth consecutive season. … Jordan Staal played in his 276th consecutive game Sunday, tying him with Nick Harbaruk for second on Pittsburgh's all-time list.
Puck Drop: When you're the defending champs, there's no such thing as a day off. The Penguins got to spend Sunday evening relaxing, but will have to bring their best again on Monday to pick up another two points against the Sabres.

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