PITTSBURGH – The Buffalo Sabres won’t be in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the Pittsburgh Penguins can be thankful for that.
The Sabres got two goals in the last three minutes and beat the Penguins 4-2 at the Consol Energy Center Tuesday night, ending Pittsburgh’s seven-game winning streak.
“We weren’t quite as sharp in some areas as we have been lately,” forward Jarome Iginla said.
The Penguins have lost only three of their last 25 games, and two of the losses have come to the Sabres on home ice.
Potentially more significant than the outcome of Tuesday’s game was the loss of defenseman Brooks Orpik to a lower body injury. Orpik left the game after playing 6:44 in the first period and did not return.
Coach Dan Bylsma offered no information on Orpik’s injury, other than to say he was being evaluated.
The Penguins got Evgeni Malkin back after he missed four games with a lower body injury. Malkin played 21:18, had one assist and one shot on goal.
“He was flying,” Iginla said. “He created something almost every shift. It was fun to see him back out there, and he was dominant, as usual.”
Buffalo ended the Penguins’ 15-game winning streak April 2. This time, the Penguins , who played Monday night in Ottawa and traveled overnight, got off to a slow start.
“I don’t think we played our best, especially in the first half with the way we managed the puck,” Bylsma said. “We pushed hard to draw even and get goals in the third, but it was too little, too late.”
Goalie Ryan Miller, who came in with a 6-11-3 career record against the Penguins, had a strong game, stopping 40 shots. He stopped Pascal Dupuis six times, and made a big save against Beau Bennett.
Thomas Vanek scored at 12:49 of the first period, but the Penguins answered 20 seconds later. Chris Kunitz put a wrist shot in off Miller’s glove to end the first period with a 1-1 tie.
After a scoreless second period, Jochen Hecht scored at 6:11 of the third. Vanek won a battle for the puck along the boards and got the puck to Hecht, whose quick shot went over Marc-Andre Fleury’s glove.
The Penguins got the tying goal on the power play at 11:02, with Iginla one-timing a blast off Kris Letang’s pass with Brenden Morrow providing a screen in front.
Iginla has been deadly playing the left side of the ice on the power play, and Bylsma indicated that’s where he’s likely to be when the playoffs start. Iginla has goals in four straight games.
The winning goal needed a replay review at NHL headquarters in Toronto. Mark Pysyk’s shot hit Fleury’s glove, and Steve Ott batted in the rebound. The question was whether Ott’s stick was above the crossbar, and the video evidence wasn’t strong enough to overrule the call on the ice.
“It was pretty borderline,” Fleury said.
Vanek added the empty net goal.
The Penguins have two games left, both against non-playoff teams – Thursday at New Jersey and the finale at home Saturday against Carolina.
The issue now is how soon the Penguins can get back their other injured players – Paul Martin (hand surgery), James Neal (concussion) and Sidney Crosby (broken jaw).
“Paul Martin is continuing to progress,” Bylsma said. “He returned to full team practice today, which is something he’s been able to do the last couple of days. Hopefully he’ll be able to do that a few more times the remainder of this week and could potentially return to play in one of these games.
“James Neal is a guy who has also been practicing and will most likely return to practice with the team in a short time period. Sidney, while he is skating and continues to skate, we don’t have a timeline on him yet.”
Fleury’s 13-game home winning streak ended with his first loss since Jan. 29. … Malkin had missed 13 of the last 20 games with two different injuries. … Craig Adams led the Penguins with four hits. … Letang blocked six shots.