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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Game Recap: Pens Hold On, Beat Sabres 4-3

Kris Letang made some great passes on his way to a 3 assist game, Scott Wilson found the back of the net again, and the Pittsburgh Penguins now have 2 wins in as many tries against former coach Dan Bylsma as the Pittsburgh Penguins held on to a 4-3 win against the Buffalo Sabres after nearly watching a 3 goal lead get chipped away late in the game. Patric Hornqvist, Phil Kessel, and Matt Cullen also scored for the Penguins.

It was a bit of a sluggish start for a Penguins team that was playing their second 12:30 start in as many days, but they managed to strike first midway through the opening period. Sidney Crosby got the puck in the corner off the rush and found Trevor Daley coming up in the second wave. Daley unleashed a shot that Patric Hornqvist got a stick on, and the puck slowly slid past Robin Lehner, who had pushed off cross crease to get in position to stop the initial shot. Minutes later Hornqvist was sent to the box for slashing, and Buffalo was able to get even. The Pens were able to do a good job of preventing the Sabres from setting up their power play, but a Zach Bogosian slapper from the blueline cleanly beat a screened Marc-Andre Fleury to tie the score 1-1.

Pittsburgh had a great chance late in the 1st period to increase the lead as Mark Pysyk took a crosschecking penalty with just over two minutes left, then David Legwand tripped Phil Kessel to give the Pens 29 seconds of 5-on-3. They weren't able to convert with the two man advantage and entered intermission with 1:17 left on the Legwand minor, but Buffalo was up to the task to start the 2nd. That made it 12 straight power play opportunities without a goal for a Penguins team clearly missing Evgeni Malkin on the man advantage.

Minutes after the Buffalo penalty kill Olli Maatta took an interference penalty, and it again lead to a goal going up on the board. The Penguins got a great chance shorthanded as Matt Cullen hit Carl Hagelin behind the defense on the rush to get him in alone with Lehner, but Hagelin wasn't able to beat his fellow Swede. However, Jack Eichel took a cross-checking penalty on the play, and the Penguins were quickly able to make Buffalo pay on the ensuing 4-on-4. Kris Letang had the puck deep in the Buffalo zone and found Scott Wilson all alone on the opposite side of the crease and Wilson buried the shot to regain the Pittsburgh lead. Wilson now has a 3 game goal scoring streak, and the player who still leads the Baby Pens in goals and points is making a great case for staying with the parent club as the team gets healthy.

The Penguins continued to press to increase the lead and saw a number of great scoring chances. Midway through the 2nd, Maatta intercepted a pass and got in alone with Lehner but rang the shot off the crossbar. Not long after the Pens had a 3 on 2 rush that nearly resulted in an easy tap in. Hornqvist got the puck between the circles and nearly hit an open Crosby on the goal line with an empty net in front of him, but Josh Gorges just barely got a piece of the pass to tip the puck to the corner and prevent the sure goal. The Pen would be able to finally turn the pressure into a goal late in the 2nd period. Kris Letang made a great slap pass to Phil Kessel on the far post, and Kessel was able to skate his way into a wide open net with Lehner down to increase the Pittsburgh lead to two. The goal gave Kessel 4 goals in his last 5 games, both playing with Cullen and Hagelin on the 2nd line and with Crosby on the 1st. If Kessel's able to heat up it'll make the Penguins infinitely more difficult to play against, especially with Malkin nearing a return.

The Pens were able to control play at the start of the 3rd period and snuff out any Buffalo attempts to close the lead, but a Connor Sheary tripping penalty midway through the period opened things up. Again, it was a Pittsburgh penalty that led to action, this time for both teams. Hagelin gave Cullen an area pass that sprung him for a shorthanded breakaway. Lehner initially made the save sliding backwards, but his momentum helped propel the puck into the net to widen the Pittsburgh lead to 3. It would prove to be a big goal as Brian Gionta deflected a Bogosian shot past Fleury for a power play goal just seconds later to cut the lead back down to 2.

However, Buffalo had trouble building much off the momentum. The Sabres had a chance on a loose puck in front of the net with 5 minutes left, but Fleury was able to cover it up before it could do any damage. Evander Kane tripped Trevor Daley behind the Pittsburgh net with 3:26 left in the game, and while the Penguins weren't able to convert, it went a long way towards killing the clock late in the game. Lehner was pulled when Kane hit the ice to even things back up, and Bogosian was able to rip a shot from the point that hit off Fleury's glove and into the net for his second of the game to bring the score within one with 21.4 seconds left, but the Sabres weren't able to get the second goal to complete the comeback, and the Pens were able to hold on for two points.

It was a slow start for the Penguins, but they managed to come roaring back and ended the afternoon with a score adjusted 55.0 CF%. The game gives the Penguins a much needed 2 points as they moved into the 1st wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Pittsburgh will travel to Boston to face the Bruins on Wednesday, and the story until then will be whether the 3 days off will be enough to get Evgeni Malkin back into the lineup.

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