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Neal, Michalek break out in win

| Wednesday, March 9, 2011

James Neal and Zbynek Michalek finally scored their first goals in Penguins uniforms Tuesday at Consol Energy Center.

Everything else was life as usual.

The Penguins couldn't score on the power play but received impeccable goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury and were excellent defensively in a 3-1 victory over the red-hot Buffalo Sabres.

Philadelphia beat Edmonton, which leaves the Penguins two points out of first place in the Atlantic Division.

"We started slow but got better and better as the game went on," said Michalek, who might as well have been describing his season.

"We just need to keep playing like this."

The Penguins, perhaps inspired by Chris Kunitz's return to the lineup, spent most of the evening in Buffalo territory. They managed to finish the season series 4-0 against the Sabres and their great goaltender, Ryan Miller. In fact, this marked the team's first victory in regulation since Feb. 4, when they beat Buffalo, 3-2.

Even without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins continue to showcase playoff-style hockey that could suit them well this spring.

"We think we can win any given night, the way we're playing," coach Dan Bylsma said.

It certainly helps when marquee acquisitions finally score.

James Neal, effective but pointless in his first six games with the Penguins, erased a 1-0 deficit early in the second period when he whipped a shot past Miller.

"It was nice to get a goal and get the monkey off (my) back," Neal said.

Imagine how Michalek felt.

Although the Penguins signed the defenseman this summer primarily because of his ability to prevent goals, Michalek surely didn't figure to play 58 games without a goal. He finally ended that inglorious mark with a blast from the right point later in the second period. Michalek took a moment to celebrate, then raised his arms to the heavens.

"It's a goal I'll remember the rest of my life," he said. "Actually, I didn't see the puck go in. When the crowd reacted, I wasn't sure if it was mine. But everyone skated toward me, so I figured it was."

Mark Letestu added his 12th goal later in the third, and it was more than just an insurance tally. In fact, it was Letestu's goal that perfectly illustrated how these Penguins intend to play the remainder of the season, with or without Crosby.

Neal's effort at the left point kept the puck in Buffalo territory, and he managed to throw the puck behind Buffalo's net. Miller then swept the puck the other direction, but Michalek pounced on the clearing attempt and quickly fired a shot toward the net. Letestu had already barged to the net and deflected it in.

"I particularly liked getting the third goal," Bylsma said. "We got in on the forecheck. We put pressure on them. 'Z' made a great play there. It was a big goal for us."

The Penguins were pleased with their up-tempo attack in the offensive one, and Fleury was appreciative of the defensive work he enjoyed. While Fleury was sharp in stopping 29 of 30 shots, he didn't face a large number of quality opportunities.

"Not too many shots, not too many chances," Fleury said. "We have such a good defensive core."

The only thing that didn't go right was Fleury's late attempt to score into an empty net and the 0 for 7 power-play performance.

"I like how we are playing," Michalek said. "Everything is good."

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