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Penguins try to cool off sizzling Sabres

by John Kreiser

PENGUINS (47-24-6) at SABRES (38-29-10)


Last 10:
Pittsburgh 6-3-1; Buffalo 7-1-2

Season Series:
It's the last of the four meetings this season. The Sabres won two of the first three, including a 6-2 victory at First Niagara Center in the last one on Feb. 17.

Big Story: The Sabres have supplanted the Penguins as the NHL's hottest team. Buffalo has won five in a row and capped a climb from last in the East to the top eight with a 5-1 win at Washington on Tuesday. The Penguins went more than a month without losing in regulation, but have been lit up defensively while dropping three of their last four games, including a home-and-home sweep by the New York Islanders.

Team Scope:

With two games against the Islanders, a team they've dominated for the past few seasons, Pittsburgh began the week looking to make a final push to pass the Rangers for the top spot in the East. Instead, they lost 5-3 at home on Tuesday and again by the same score Thursday night on Long Island.

"We talked about it a lot. We expected the guys to have a better effort," center Jordan Staal said. "It just wasn't there. We have to definitely find a way to get our game back and do the things we need to do to win games."

Sabres: Little did they know it at the time, but the Sabres' 6-2 win against the Penguins in Pittsburgh's last trip to Buffalo would be the beginning of what could be one of the great playoff sprints in NHL history. The Sabres are 14-2-3 in their last 19 games and have gone from last in the East to eighth place.

"We can control our fate now," said forward Drew Stafford, who scored twice in Washington. "We know every game from now on is just like it's been the past month or so -- it's must-win."

Who's Hot: Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin had a goal Thursday to become the first player in the NHL to reach the 100-point mark this season. He has six points in two games against the Sabres this season and is 8-18-26 in 20 career meetings. Pascal Dupuis had a goal Thursday to extend his scoring streak to 12 games. … Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller has a 1.20 goals-against average and a shutout during a five-game winning streak.

Injury Report: The Penguins are missing defensemen Kris Letang (lower body) and Matt Niskanen (upper body). Another defenseman, Ben Lovejoy, is out after undergoing knee surgery this week. … Buffalo suffered a major loss on the blue line when defenseman Christian Ehrhoff was injured in the second period of the win in Washington. He's out indefinitely after knocking knees with Caps forward Troy Brouwer. Matt Ellis (knee), Nathan Gerbe (upper body) and Jochen Hecht (concussion) are also out

Stat Pack: Sidney Crosby has 16 points during a 12-game scoring streak against the Sabres. … Cody McCormick became the 30th Sabre to score a goal this season when he connected against Washington. That matches the franchise record, which had been accomplished three times previously.

Puck Drop: The two losses to the Islanders have made catching the Rangers difficult, if not impossible. Staal said the Penguins' biggest task now is to return to the level of performance they showed during the 13-0-1 run that got them close to New York.

"We've got to worry about our game," he said. "The standings will be the standings. We want to win games. Right now, we're not playing our best hockey and we're losing games. That's definitely something we've got to address first."
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