The Buffalo Sabres hung tough for a period Wednesday, but the Pittsburgh Penguins spent the remaining 40 minutes putting on a clinic of what championship-caliber hockey looks like in a 5-1 drubbing at the First Niagara Center.
The Sabres actually held a lead for about 10 minutes in the first period. Drew Stafford tucked a rebound past Marc-Andre Fleury at the 5:58 mark for his seventh point (five goals, two assists) in six games. Tyler Ennis drew the assist.
But that was the only goal Fleury would allow on the night. Harry Zolnierczyk tied the game with five minutes left in the first period, taking a Sidney Crosby pass from the corner and beating Ryan Miller cleanly in the slot.
And then the stars came out to shine in the second period.
Crosby made the Sabres look downright bush league in the period's first two minutes. He split two players and the wristed a shot perfectly over Miller's glove to give the Pens a 2-1 lead. But Evgeni Malkin also wanted a spot on the highlight reel, so he triple-deked Miller on a breakaway and tucked the puck past him in the period's final three minutes to make it 3-1.
"We came out strong and had some jump and some energy. But they came on in the second," said Sabres captain Steve Ott. "Let's be honest – that's a good team over there."
The Penguins solidified that claim in a third period that saw them outshoot the Sabres 6-5 and generally clamp down any menial threat Buffalo could pose. Brian Gibbons beat Miller right off a faceoff from the left circle five minutes into the period. James Neal capped off the scoring with a slot from near the blue line off a Malkin feed.
They're a very talented team. We made mistakes at the wrong times," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. "That's what happens."
Miller stopped 29 shots, while Fleury saved 24 shots to pick up the win. Mike Weber went -2 on the night and now stands at -31, worst in the NHL.
"We gave them a few Grade A chances, and with the firepower they have, obviously the big guns came through," Sabres defenseman Jamie McBain said. "They took our push out of us. We'll have to move on."
The Sabres have lost 10 out of their last 12 games and fell to 15-33-8. The Penguins improved to 40-15-2. Buffalo plays at Ottawa on Thursday in its last game before the Olympic break. Miller said he didn't know if he'd start but "if they need me, I'll play."
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