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We’ll Allow it: Sabres’ Luukkonen Just Too Sharp for Penguins, 3-1



The Pittsburgh Penguins weren’t able to get any pucks past Buffalo goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen until the third period at PPG Paints Arena Saturday night.

None that actually registered on the scoreboard, anyway.

Oh, they did score twice on him during the first period of what became a 3-1 loss to the Sabres, but both were waved off after challenges by Buffalo coach Don Granato.

And while they eventually were able to beat Luukkonen, who finished with a career-high 44 saves, during a lengthy two-man advantage in the third period, Buffalo went back in front to stay about 7 1/2 minutes later.

The defeat was the Penguins’ second in a row on home ice, and dropped their record there to 10-8-1.

Buffalo, meanwhile, has recorded consecutive regulation victories against the Penguins for the first time since Oct. 3, 2019 and Feb. 22, 2020.

The Penguins were victimized by an early goal-against for the third consecutive game, as Buffalo’s Alex Tuch pulled in a long lead pass from defenseman Connor Clifton and beat Tristan Jarry with a wrist shot from near the top of the left circle at 2:53 of the opening period.

That kind of start is something of a novelty for the Sabres, who had allowed the first goal in 24 of their previous 39 games and had been outscored, 51-27, during the first 20 minutes in those.

Sidney Crosby had a chance to pull the Penguins even when he got behind the Buffalo defense 5 1/2 minutes into the game, but Sabres goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped his shot.

It proved to be a portent.

The Penguins began to take control of play as the period progressed, when Drew O’Connor took a backhand feed from Crosby and tossed the puck into a largely open net at 15:50, but Buffalo challenged that the play had been offside and a review review confirmed that Crosby had entered the attacking zone well before the puck did, so the goal was waved off.

The Penguins had another goal disallowed 65 seconds before the intermission, after Jake Guentzel deflected a Crosby shot past Luukkonen from the front lip of the crease. The Sabres challenged for goaltender interference and the officials concluded that Guentzel had prevented Luukkonen from stopping the puck because his hip grazed Luukkonen’s head as Crosby’s shot approached the net.

The Penguins finished the period with a 17-8 edge in shots, which was a fair reflection of how the first had unfolded.

Tuch was penalized for tripping Marcus Pettersson, who was appearing in his 400th NHL game, 26 seconds into the second period. The Penguins failed to manufacture a goal while he was off.

Rickard Rakell had a breakaway 5 1/2 minutes into the second but, like Crosby at the same point of the opening period, he was unable to get a shot past Luukkonen.

The Penguins’ power play fizzled again after Sabres defenseman Henri Jokiharju was called for holding Crosby at 9:07. Reilly Smith got their only shot on goal during those two minutes, although that was one more than they’d managed during their first man-advantage.

Luukkonen completed his hat trick of stops on breakaway by members of the Penguins’ top line when he denied Guentzel as he broke in alone with about four minutes to go in the period. Guentzel got his chance a little more than a minute after the Penguins had killed a hooking minor to Noel Acciari.

The Penguins got their third power play of the period with 44.6 seconds to go, but it was negated when Crosby was called for interfering with Buffalo defenseman Owen Power 25 seconds later.

Jansen Harkins of the Penguins was assessed a controversial penalty for delay of game at 3:04, when he was called for shooting the puck over the glass in the defensive zone. Replays clearly showed that the puck went off the stick of Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Dahlin on its way off the playing surface.

Luukkonen thwarted Guentzel from the slot again at 5:50, but seven seconds later, Peyton Krebs and Clifton received minors, giving the Penguins a 5-on-3 advantage for a full two minutes.

They needed all but eight seconds of it before Rakell tipped an Erik Karlsson feed past Luukkonen at 7:49 to make it 1-1. Evgeni Malkin got the second assist on the goal, Rakell’s fourth.

The Sabres reclaimed the lead at 15:22, as Zemgus Girgensons got inside position on Karlsson in front of the net and tossed a backhander by Jarry, and Dahlin sealed the victory by scoring into an empty net at 18:24.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are scheduled to practice Sunday at noon at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex before traveling to Philadelphia, where they will face the Flyers Monday at 7:08 p.m.