Penguins can't stop Sabres
Three months ago, the mere suggestion that an early April meeting between the Penguins and Buffalo Sabres could prove a preview for a playoff series in early May would have seemed -- at best -- wildly wishful thinking.
It still might, especially if the Penguins' power-play performs in the postseason as it did Tuesday.
The Sabres lived up to their billing as the Eastern Conference's Stanley Cup favorite with a convincing 4-1 victory over the Penguins at Mellon Arena, snapping Pittsburgh's six-game home win streak.
In New Jersey, the Devils defeated Ottawa, 2-1, in a shootout. With only two games remaining, the Penguins trail the Devils by three points in the Atlantic Division. They also are two points behind the Ottawa Senators in the race for fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
The Penguins will need to win in Ottawa on Thursday to have any shot at gaining home-ice advantage in the opening round of the upcoming Stanley Cup playoffs. The Penguins must finish with more points than either the Devils or Senators because they will lose tiebreakers due to having fewer victories than either club.
For the Sabres, the victory secured home-ice advantage through the conference playoffs. They will enter the Stanley Cup playoffs as the top seed.
"The biggest thing about them is that they started strong, got hit by some injuries, and they've just kept it going," defenseman Brooks Orpik said of the Sabres, who have gone 22-14-4 over the past three months after starting the season 28-7-2.
"They have a lot of good players that have come up and done well. It's really impressive. They're going to be a tough team to beat in the playoffs."
With a 29-8-5 record from January through March, the Penguins had done well to make even Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff wonder if, despite their collective inexperience, they might not prove long for the playoffs, too.
"The way they have played the past 40 games, I'm convinced they can make a long run," Ruff said prior to the game last night. "I'm not surprised by anything they've done over the past three months."
Specifically, Ruff suggested that perhaps the only way to stop the Penguins' young stars, such as scoring leader Sidney Crosby and Calder Trophy candidates Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, was to stay out of the penalty box.
"If you don't, Pittsburgh has enough talent to really make you pay," Ruff said.
Never in his wildest dreams could Ruff have imagined that the Penguins' vaunted power-play, ranked fifth in the league at 20.4 percent, would prove so futile against the Sabres -- especially at home, where the Penguins were operating at an efficiency of 21.3 percent.
Last night, without one of its anchors, defenseman Ryan Whitney, the Penguins' power play went scoreless on eight attempts. In their previous two games against the Sabres, Pittsburgh had gone 4 of 8 on man-advantage chances.
"We just didn't take advantage of our chances," Crosby said. "We had enough of them."
Whitney, nursing a groin injury, said that he hopes to return against the Senators. Clearly, the Penguins missed his presence on the left point against Buffalo.
Down 2-1 in the second period but benefiting from 27 seconds of a two-man advantage, the Penguins failed to register a shot on Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller. When that advantage ended, the Penguins used the remaining 1:33 of man-advantage time to fire exactly zero pucks Miller's way.
"I'm not going to take anything away from (Whitney) because there is no doubt he has been great back there, but there are going to be times when you're missing somebody on the power-play -- you still have to find a way," Crosby said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins trade Sutter to Canucks, sign free agent center Fehr
- Rossi: ‘Hockey guy’ Sutter will be missed
- Sutter: Staal effect felt on 3rd line with Penguins
- Reliving the moment a decade ago that shifted the Penguins' history
- New Pens winger Fehr ready for defense-first role
- ‘Warning track’ makes Pittsburgh debut at Southpointe’s Iceoplex
- Rossi: ‘Hockey guy’ Sutter will be missed