Movie sequels rarely seem to be as good as the original. The same isn’t necessarily true of the back end of home-and-home series in the NHL, but the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres will be hard-pressed tonight to equal, let alone outdo, the show they put on at KeyBank Center 24 hours earlier.
The Penguins ultimately prevailed, 4-3, on Jeff Carter’s power-play goal at 1:36 of overtime, but not until Buffalo had reminded them that it is a team on the rise, with lots of speed, a bounty of young talent and one of the league’s most menacing power plays, among other things.
The Sabres had a pronounced edge in play through much of the first two periods — Buffalo’s lopsided 13-6 advantage in shots during the first 20 minutes flattered the Penguins — before the Penguins had the upper during the third and the 96 seconds of overtime.
The outcome effectively was settled when Buffalo winger Jeff Skinner, who had eight penalty minutes in his previous 26 games, picked up a match penalty for cross-checking Jake Guentzel in the face with 21.3 seconds left in regulation.
He and Guentzel also were assessed slashing minors, but that only meant that, rather than possibly being involved in Carter’s goal, Guentzel had an ice-level view of it from the penalty box.
Although Skinner, who scored Buffalo’s second goal Friday, was suspended for three games today for his attack on Guentzel, the Sabres have more than enough offensive ability to compensate for his absence.
The Penguins did a pretty good job of damage-control against the likes of Tage Thompson (one assist), Rasmus Dahlin and Dylan Cozens, among others, but the Sabres have a quick-strike capability rooted in an excellent transition game that makes them a threat to alter the course of a game in a matter of seconds.
The Penguins should be aware of that, since Buffalo scored twice in a span of 67 seconds late in the second period, shortly after Guentzel had given the Penguins a 1-0 lead.
The Penguins’ resurgent power play, which has generated at least one goal in a season-high four games in a row, was 2-for-5 Friday, while Buffalo scored on one of four chances with the man-advantage. That goal came with 90 seconds left in regulation, after goalie Craig Anderson had been replaced by an extra attacker to create a 6-on-4.
Limiting the opportunities the Sabres’ power play has to take control of the game figures to be a priority for the Penguins, but that could be a challenge against a team with Buffalo’s skill and young legs.
Then again, considering that they are 9-1-1 in their past 11 games, the Penguins have proven capable of meeting — and overcoming — challenges on a fairly regular basis lately.
When he met with reporters a couple of hours before the opening faceoff, Mike Sullivan said forward Ryan Poehling and Kris Letang are “available” and will be “game-time decisions” tonight. He did not commit to having either in his lineup.
Expected Pittsburgh Penguins Lines
Expected Buffalo Sabres Lines
*Jeff Skinner, who has been playing here, was suspended today
Penguins power play: 18 of 92, 19.6%, 26th
Penguins penalty-kill: 16 of 86, 81.4%, 7th
Sabres power play: 30 of 104, 28.9%, 4th
Sabres penalty-kill: 27 of 92, 70.7%, 28th
Pittsburgh Penguins Game Notes
Evgeni Malkin, who had two assists Friday, has at least one point in 18 of his past 19 games against the Sabres. His career totals against them: 20 goals, 45 assists in 49 games.
Rickard Rakell might be sorry to see the season series ending, because his goal and assist Friday give him 12 points in 16 career games against Buffalo.
Sabres winger Tage Thompson, who had a five-goal game in Columbus Wednesday, has scored seven times in 15 career games against Pittsburgh. He also has a six-game assist streak and 38 points in his past 20 games, including that assist Friday.
Sidney Crosby, whose spectacular effort to keep the puck in the Buffalo zone made the Penguins’ second goal possible, was shut out Friday night, snapping his six-game points streak, but Guentzel’s goal extended his streak to six. Guentzel, however, failed to record an assist Friday, for the first time in six games.
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Chad Ruhwedel does not have a point in 12 career games against Buffalo, his original NHL team.
This will be the final meeting of the regular season between the Penguins and Sabres. The Penguins are 1-1, Buffalo 1-0-1.
How to Watch
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: 105.9 the X