This one is good for the boys in black and gold.
Goalie Brent Johnson
made a plethora of brilliant saves to lead the Penguins to a 4-3 win over the Sabres at First Niagara Center, his first game back after missing 17 contests due to injury.
The Penguins held off the surging Sabres to bounce back from a stretch that had seen them lose two straight games and three of their last four.
Captain Sidney Crosby
had a four-point effort (1G-3A) and became the sixth player in franchise history to reach the 600-point mark. Steve Sullivan
had a goal and two assists, Evgeni Malkin
had one goal and one assist, Pascal Dupuis
had two helpers and Jordan Staal
iced the victory with an empty-net goal with just seconds remaining in the game.
The Sabres entered this game a desperate team, as they’d played themselves back into a tie for eighth place in the Eastern Conference after being 10 points out of the postseason picture and near the bottom of the standings in mid-February.
Their backs have been against the wall for a long time now, and they’ve managed to find ways to win. But tonight, the Penguins matched their desperation in an exciting, back-and-forth affair that exemplified a playoff-like atmosphere – and came away with two points.
“They were a desperate team and we had to make sure we were playing desperate as well,” Crosby said. “I thought we did a really good job of that.”
Head coach Dan Bylsma agreed.
“I thought right from the start, we knew we were in for a game,” he said. “Buffalo played extremely hard. … The speed of the game really had a playoff-type of feel out in the building. I thought our team responded really well to that. They played really hard.
“It was the best game we had on the forecheck and in the offensive zone. We really had a physical impact on the game. Our power play comes up with two big goals. It was a really good game for us in a tough building, with tough bounces and in tough situations. A hard-fought game.”
JOHNSON HAS STRONG SHOWING IN RETURN
It’s been a long time coming for Penguins goaltender Brent Johnson
Johnson recorded his first win since Feb. 12 as Pittsburgh bested the Buffalo Sabres, 5-3, at First Niagara Center Friday night.
Johnson, who has missed 17 games during that stretch with an undisclosed injury, made 25 saves to help the Penguins stop a skid that saw them lose three out of four games.
“The end result is the key. I’m very satisfied with the end result,” Johnson said. “It was like a playoff game. There was a lot of bumping and stuff going on down low, behind the net. It was just a hard fought battle by both teams.” More on Johnson here.
CROSBY HITS (AND SURPASSES) 600 POINTS
Crosby produced a four-point effort (1G-3A) against the Sabres Friday, making him just the sixth player in franchise history to reach the 600-point milestone as he recorded Nos. 598, 599, 600 and 601 against Buffalo.
Crosby, who played in his 430th career contest tonight, is the seventh-fastest player in NHL history to reach 600 points in terms of games played.
Crosby is also the seventh-youngest player in NHL history to reach that mark at 24 years, 236 days. He is the youngest player to 600 points since Pierre Turgeon (24 years, 177 days) did so with the New York Islanders back in 1994.
“I didn’t really realize I was getting close to that till the last few days,” Crosby smiled. “So good to get it and I’ll just move on.”
Since returning to the lineup on March 15, Crosby has collected 17 points (3G-14A) in 10 games, an average of 1.7 per game. He has had multiple points in six of the 10 games.
SPECIAL TEAMS THRIVE
After the Penguins lost the special teams battle on Tuesday against the NY Islanders, Pittsburgh dominated that aspect of the game on Thursday in Buffalo.
The Penguins converted two of three chances on the man-advantage, with a goal from Malkin at the 3:50 mark of the first and a tally from James Neal
midway through the second.
Neal’s goal was his league-leading 17th power-play tally of the season.
The Penguins also killed off a crucial penalty with 2:21 left to play in the third when Malkin was sent to the box for delay of game after his clearing attempt sailed over the glass.Jordan Staal
won a few key faceoffs and the Penguins got some big clears from their penalty-killing unit to keep the Sabres from tying the game.
MORE LINE SHUFFLING
Bylsma shuffled his lines for Tuesday’s game in Long Island, reuniting Crosby with Chris Kunitz
and Dupuis and moving Sullivan to left wing on a line with Malkin and Neal.
And Bylsma opted to shuffle his combinations again on Thursday in Buffalo, reuniting Kunitz with Malkin and Neal and putting Sullivan with Crosby and Dupuis.
The latter trio hit it off instantly, directly connecting for six points (2G-4A) in the Penguins’ 5-3 win over the Sabres.
DUPUIS KEEPS STREAKING
The NHL’s longest point streak this season doesn’t belong to a name like Malkin, Steven Stamkos or Claude Giroux.
It’s now the sole property of Pascal Dupuis
after he earned two assists on Friday to extend his career-high point streak to 13 games.
Dupuis, 32, has nine goals, eight assists and 17 points over the streak. The veteran winger’s 10th NHL season is proving to be his best one across the board, as he set a new single-season career high in assists by recording Nos. 29 and 30 against the Sabres – breaking his previous best of 28, which he had in 2002-03 with Minnesota.
Dupuis’ 24 goals and 54 points are also career highs for the Penguins forward.
MALKIN INCHING CLOSER TO 50
Malkin is inching closer to reaching the 50-goal mark for the first time in his career.
Malkin is now just two goals shy of becoming the ninth player in franchise history to reach that mark, as he established a new career high with his 48th goal of the season on Friday.
Malkin has notched at least one point in 10 of his last 11 games, during which he has collected 10 goals and 21 points.
NISKANEN AND VITALE ALSO RETURN
In addition to Johnson, defenseman Matt Niskanen
and forward Joe Vitale
also returned to the lineup tonight against the Sabres.
Niskanen had missed four games with an upper-body injury, while Vitale had been sidelined for the previous seven contests with an upper-body injury.
Niskanen skated on a pairing with Paul Martin
. He recorded two shots and two hits through 20:13 minutes of ice time.
“I thought Niskanen really played an outstanding game,” Bylsma said. “The way he defended, the way he moved the puck and getting his shots through as well, I thought having him back really was noticeable for our blue line and in how we play.”
Vitale centered the fourth line with Arron Asham
and Craig Adams
. Vitale logged 10:04 of ice time (including 1:11 shorthanded minutes) and two hits in the game.
“I thought Joe hopped back in and added some speed and physicality,” Bylsma said. “He’s also a guy who, after power plays and when you move up Jordan or Sidney to another line, can be a centerman that moves up between Dupuis and Sullivan, which he did real well tonight. I liked his game.”
Author: Michelle Crechiolo