(SportsNetwork.com) – The Pittsburgh Penguins have failed in two straight
chances at securing a playoff spot.
Third time’s a charm?
The Pens wrap their regular season on Saturday night with a critical matchup
against the Buffalo Sabres, who are assured of finishing with the fewest
points in the NHL.
Pittsburgh has lost a season-high five straight (0-4-1) and is just 3-9-2 over
its last 14 games. Still, the club is currently in a playoff position with 96
points, one ahead of the Boston Bruins for the second wild card in the Eastern
Conference. Ottawa holds the first wild card with 97 points.
Despite its losing streak, the Penguins still control their own destiny. A
victory versus the Sabres clinches a playoff spot as does a loss by the Bruins
on Saturday to the hosting Tampa Bay Lightning.
Pittsburgh got a goal from Rob Scuderi and 23 saves by Marc-Andre Fleury in
last night’s 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders.
“The last two games in particular, those are big games,” Penguins coach Mike
Johnston told NHL.com. “Big moments. How do our players rise up to the
occasion? We didn’t get the results, but I look at the games and we’ve played,
you could say four of six really good periods. We just didn’t score tonight on
“We had some great opportunities. We just didn’t score.”
Sidney Crosby had an assist and is tied with the Islanders’ John Tavares for
the NHL scoring lead with 84 points. However, Evgeni Malkin has not scored a
goal in nine straight games and has just three assists over that time.
With their season on the line. Fleury will start for the Penguins again
tonight. He is 17-5-2 with a 2.25 goals against average, .918 save percentage
and three shutouts in 26 games (24 starts) versus the Sabres.
Also working in Pittsburgh’s favor is the fact it has won five straight versus
Buffalo, outscoring the Sabres 23-3 over that span with two shutout wins. The
Pens have won four in a row in Buffalo as well.
The Sabres, though, will likely be motivated to play spoiler and they already
clinched 30th place in the NHL standings with last night’s 4-2 loss to the
Columbus Blue Jackets. That gives Buffalo the best odds at winning the top
selection in the upcoming draft lottery and the club will select no lower than
second place. That means the Sabres will have a chance to draft either Connor
McDavid or Jack Eichel.
Mikhail Grigorenko and Brian Gionta tallied for the Sabres, who have lost
three of their last four.
“We battled back, made a game of it. Can’t ask for any more from these guys,”
Sabres head coach Ted Nolan said.
Anders Lindback stopped 36 shots in defeat as Buffalo reached 50 regulation
defeats for the second consecutive campaign.