PITTSBURGH - After playing four consecutive overtime games and having eight of their previous nine decided by one goal, the Pittsburgh Penguins found an opponent they've made a habit of defeating a little bit more easily.
James Neal and Zbynek Michalek each scored for the first time as members of the Penguins with goals 3:17 apart early in the second period and Pittsburgh continued its recent mastery of the Buffalo Sabres with a 3-1 win Tuesday night.
Pittsburgh swept the season series with the Sabres in winning their sixth consecutive game against them. The Penguins also won in regulation for the first time since Feb. 4 against - you guessed it - the Sabres.
"We were all very, very happy to get that third goal," Pittsburgh defenseman Matt Niskanan said. "We could finally somewhat take kind of a deep breath and relax a little bit."
Mark Letestu scored that insurance goal with 5:54 to play as the Penguins came back from a first-period deficit and took the lead for good during the second for the second time in a little more than a month against the Sabres.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 29 saves to improve to 4-0 with a 1.25 goals-against average against Buffalo this season.
On the ice
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"He's made big saves when he has needed to make them," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "Even last game when we got up, he shut it down. He's quietly put together - I don't even think quietly - a nice season."
Rob Niedermayer scored for the second straight game for Buffalo, which lost in regulation for the first time in eight games since Terry Pegula became the team's owner.
The Penguins remained two points behind the Philadelphia Flyers in the race for the Eastern Conference's best record.
Neal's goal was his first in seven games since being acquired from Dallas, and Michalek scored for the first time in 59 games this season. Each also had an assist.
"Both of those guys were pretty relieved and had pretty big smiles on their faces," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Eighty-five seconds into the second period, Neal scored for only the second time in 18 games dating to his time with Dallas. Neal redirected a pass from Deryk Engelland while standing just to the left side of Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, the puck deflecting off of Sabres defenseman Jordan Leopold and into the far side of the net for Neal's 22nd of the season.
"Those are the kind of goals that can get you out of a slump," Neal said. "It was a little bit luck, but it was nice to see it finally go into the net."
Michalek's goal came on a slap shot from the right point that found its way through traffic, appeared to deflect off a Buffalo player and ended up beating Miller high to the glove side.