PITTSBURGH – The Buffalo Sabres haven't had much to celebrate this year. They will miss the playoffs and finish last in the Northeast Division for the first time since 2004.
However, the Sabres can at least feel could about being a stone in the Pittsburgh Penguins' skates during the latter stages of the lockout-shortened season.
Steve Ott scored a disputed goal with 2:34 left Tuesday night to break a tie and lift the Sabres to a 4-2 victory over the Penguins at the Consol Energy Center.
Buffalo (20-21-6) put an end to the Penguins' seven-game winning streak. The Sabres also snapped the Penguins' 15-game winning streak on their last visit to Pittsburgh on April 2, which was one short of the NHL record.
While Buffalo will be on the golf course next week, Pittsburgh (35-11-0) will enter the Stanley Cup playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Tuesday's win can give the Sabres something to smile about while they tee it up.
"Obviously, we wanted to be in the playoffs, but that's not going to happen, but guys want to make sure they finish strong," Buffalo interim coach Ron Rolston said. "Tonight was a good step in that direction.
"It goes to show if guys play together and play the right way, had the win in Boston and a couple wins here on the road, those teams are quality teams."
Tomas Vanek added an empty netter for the Sabres, his second goal of the game, with 27 seconds remaining. It was Vanek's 20th goal of the season.
Ott tipped in a Mark Pysyk shot for the game-winning goal, his ninth overall goal this season. Ott's stick appeared to be over his shoulder when he scored. However, the officials upheld the goal after a video.
"Once they call the goal on the ice, it's going to stand that way unless there is irrefutable evidence," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. "I knew it would have to be pretty drastic to turn our way."
With 2:16 left in the second period, Ott was sent off for a 10-minute game misconduct.
Jochen Hecht also scored for the Sabrers. Pysyk, Cody Hodgson and Drew Stafford had two assists each.
Pittsburgh's goals were scored by Chris Kunitz and Jarome Iginla.
The Penguins got center Evgeni Malkin back after he missed four games with a shoulder injury. Last year's Hart Trophy winner did not score and took only one shot but he took 19 shifts over 21:18 without incident.
"He played for a lot of jump, a lot of jam in his game," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik left the game in the first period with was turned a lower body injury.
Ryan Miller stopped 31 shots on goal for the win.
"He was great, gave us a chance to win and we rewarded him," Vanek said.
Despite making 38 saves, expectant father Marc-Andre Fleury lost for the just the second time in his last 13 decisions. Fleury did make the trip for Ottawa for Monday night's 3-1 win over the Senators because his wife will soon give birth to the couple's first child.
Iginla tied it for the Penguins at 2-2 with a power-play at 11:02 of the third period, his 14th goal. He scored high to the glove side as goaltender Ryan Miller was screened by Brenden Morrow.
Iginla has scored a goal in four straight games and has five goals and four assists in his last 11 games.
Buffalo had gone ahead at 6:11 of the third on Hecht's slapshot from the slot, his fifth goal.
Buffalo's Vanek opened the scoring when he blasted a slapshot form the point past Fleury at 12:49 of the first period.
Twenty seconds later, Pittsburgh's Kunitz answered, his slapshot hitting off Miller's glove and into the net.
The game stayed tied until the third period.
"If you look at our whole season really, against top teams we played good hockey, and against, I'm not going to say lower teams, but teams like Florida and Tampa (Bay), we struggled to get wins and ultimately, that's our season right there," Vanek said.
The Penguins, meanwhile, saw their chances dim of winning the President's Trophy for best regular-season record and home-ice advantage if they would make the Stanley Cup Finals. Pittsburgh has 70 points, trailing Chicago by three, and the Blackhawks have three games remaining to the Penguins' two.
Pittsburgh visits New Jersey on Thursday and hosts Carolina on Saturday. Chicago finishes with road games at Edmonton on Wednesday and St. Louis on Saturday sandwiched around a home game with Calgary on Friday.
"We still want to keep winning and have that chance of winning first overall regardless of if that's still realistic," Penguins center Brandon Sutter said. "We still need to keep playing well even though there's not much on the line for us. Our momentum from these last couple games will carry into the playoffs.
NOTES: Penguins defenseman Kris Letang returned to action after missing Monday's win at Ottawa because of food poisoning. ... Pittsburgh defenseman Paul Martin staked with his teammates during the optional morning skate for the first time since suffering a broken hand on March 28 and undergoing surgery. ... Penguins left wing James Neal (concussions) is expected to skate with the team later this week for the first since being injured April 5. ... Pittsburgh center Sidney Crosby (broken jaw) missed his 10th straight game and there remains no timetable for his return. ... Buffalo defenseman Chad Ruhwedel returned to Pittsburgh less than two weeks after playing in the NCAA Frozen Four with UMass-Lowell, which lost to eventual champion Yale in the semifinals. ... Healthy scratches for Pittsburgh were left winger Steve MacIntyre, centers Tyler Kennedy and Joe Vitale, defensemen Robert Bortuzzo and Simon Despres and goaltender Eric Hartzell. ... Left wing Ville Leino (upper body), right wing Patrick Kaleta (hand) and defenseman Tyler Myers (leg) were scratches for the Sabres
By John Perrotto, The Sports Xchange
Publish Date: April 23, 2013 11:11:44 PM
Sabres damage Penguins' chances at best record with 4-2 win
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