BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma had mixed emotions as he watched two of his stars score highlight-reel goals Wednesday night.
Second-period goals from centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin lifted the Penguins to a 5-1 win over the lowly Buffalo Sabres. But it was not lost on Bylsma that he'll find himself squaring off against Crosby and Malkin -- alongside Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, who was in net for Buffalo -- in just a matter of days at the Winter Olympics.
Miller may be the starting goalie under Bylsma, head coach of the U.S. Hockey team. And Crosby (Canada) and Malkin (Russia) will soon be foes in Sochi, Russia.
"I couldn't help but think about that as Crosby went down on that breakaway against Miller," Bylsma said. "I was cheering the goal this time."
Crosby's strike just over two minutes into the second period was the turning point of the game and an exceptional display of elite skill.
The Penguins captain burst past center Brian Flynn and defenseman Mike Weber before roofing a wrist shot above Miller and into the top right corner of the net for his 28th goal of the season, giving Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead -- a lead they would not give away.
"(Matt) Niskanen delivered the puck to Sid right at full stride and it's tough to handle and he breaks right in there, he's got really a clean breakaway from the top of the circle," Bylsma said. "It was such a nice play and a good pass and he cuts in there and he's got plenty of time to survey the situation and snap it there."
Crosby ended a five-game goal drought with the effort.
"One game doesn't say a whole lot, but it's nice to score," Crosby said. "You try to go out there and do the same thing every night, work hard and hope you get rewarded. It's nice when they go in and obviously to get a win here, with one more left here before the break."
This time around, Bylsma could enjoy it -- and for good reason. His Penguins continue to surge near the top of the NHL standings with 82 points, placing them in a tie with Chicago for the second-highest point total in the league.
With the victory, the Penguins reached the 40-win mark faster than any other team in franchise history. Pittsburgh has 40 wins through 57 games. Its previous franchise-best start was 40 wins in 65 games during the 1995-96 season.
Right winger James Neal, center Brian Gibbons and left winger Harry Zolnierczyk also scored for the Penguins (40-15-2) while goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made 24 saves.
"I think we're aware of that stuff when everyone brings it up, but hopefully we're thinking much more further ahead here," Crosby said. "We've had some really good regular seasons in the past, I think everyone's well aware of that. So I think at this point we're making sure that we play the right way ... but the regular season is the regular season. We're trying to prepare for something bigger, hopefully."
Right winger Drew Stafford scored for the Sabres (15-33-8) while Miller made 29 saves in defeat.
"That had nothing to do with Ryan," Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said. "It was the guys in front of him. Our team, we need everyone. We had a couple guys no-show tonight playing one of the better teams in the league. You'd think they would excited to play and some of them weren't."
It was the Sabres who actually opened the scoring. After forcing a turnover deep in the Penguins end, Stafford gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead 5:58 into the first when he poked home a loose puck beside the Pittsburgh net. Stafford now has seven points (five goals, two assists) in his last six games.
It was all Pittsburgh after that. Zolnierczyk made it 1-1 with 4:59 remaining in the first when he beat Miller with a wrist shot to the blocker side from close range.
Crosby made it 2-1 before Malkin chipped in with a highlight-reel goal of his own. Malkin made it 3-1 with 2:12 remaining in the second. The center sped past defenseman Jamie McBain for a breakaway and beat Miller with a slick deke to his forehand. It was Malkin's 17th goal of the season.
"The (third) goal was really a killer," Nolan said. "They're a very good team. When you have a soft dump in and Malkin gets the puck and goes in for a breakaway, that's just bad, bad playing."
Gibbons increased Pittsburgh's lead to 4-1 5:22 into the third period with a quick wrist shot after a faceoff win in the Sabres end.
Neal made it 5-1 with a wrist shot from long range with 7:48 remaining.
NOTES: D Tyler Myers (lower body), C Ville Leino and C Zenon Konopka were scratched for the Sabres. Myers was injured in Buffalo's 3-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Monday. ... RW Chuck Kobasew, LW Taylor Pyatt and D Kris Letang were scratched for the Penguins. ... This game featured 11 players who will play in the upcoming Winter Olympics: C Sidney Crosby (Canada), LW Chris Kunitz (Canada), C Evgeni Malkin (Russia), LW Jussi Jokinen (Finland), D Olli Maatta (Finland), D Paul Martin (U.S.), D Brooks Orpik (U.S.), G Ryan Miller (U.S.), G Jhonas Enroth (Sweden), D Henrik Tallinder (Sweden) and C Zemgus Girgensons (Latvia). Each team's head coach (Dan Bylsma, Pittsburgh/U.S.; Ted Nolan, Buffalo/Latvia) will also make the trip to Sochi. ... This was the third and final meeting between the Sabres and Penguins this season
By Mark Ludwiczak, The Sports Xchange
Publish Date: February 5, 2014 11:22:19 PM
Crosby, Malkin push Pens past Sabres
|All Times Eastern|