BUFFALO, N.Y. — Nick Bonino scored the go-ahead goal with 5:29 left and the Pittsburgh Penguins clinched their 11th straight playoff berth with a 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night.
Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary also scored, and Matt Murray made 29 saves. The Penguins (46-17-9) improved to 8-1-1 in their past 10 and are in the hunt to finish with the NHL’s best record.
Sam Reinhart scored for a Sabres team that’s sputtering on offence. Coming off a 2-1 win at Detroit on Monday, Buffalo has just five goals in regulation in its past five games, including a 2-0 shutout loss at Los Angeles on Thursday.
The score would’ve been more lopsided if not for Buffalo goalie Robin Lehner, who made 31 saves. Lehner foiled Tom Kuhnhackl and Chris Kunitz on a pair of breakaways in the opening three minutes of the second period.
Bonino scored to break a 1-1 tie on a broken play. Penguins defenceman Ian Cole had the puck poked off his stick while driving into the left circle. Bonino followed up and snapped a shot through a crowd to beat Lehner just inside the left post.
Sheary then scored 1:58 later on another fortuitous bounce. Breaking in on the left side, Sheary took an initial shot that was stopped by Lehner. The rebound caromed into the slot and went in off the skate of Buffalo’s Zemgus Girgensons.
Pittsburgh improved to 11-0-1 over Buffalo in a string dating to April 23, 2013.
The Sabres were outshot 12-6 in the second period before finding their offence to start the third.
Reinhart capitalized on a turnover at the right boards. His initial shot was blocked by defenceman Mark Streit, but the puck landed back on Reinhart’s stick, and he beat Murray on the short side from a tough angle to the right of the net.
Crosby opened the scoring with nine seconds left in the opening period by capping an individual rush from his own blue line. After accepting Justin Schultz’s drop pass, Crosby built up a head of steam through the neutral zone, driving past forwards Ryan O’Reilly and Marcus Foligno at Buffalo’s blue line and then splitting defencemen Zach Bogosian and Josh Gorges. He then backhanded a shot into the top right corner.
It was Crosby’s sixth goal in three games, and he entered the day with an NHL-leading 40.
Crosby also continued his dominance over Buffalo, upping his total to 16 goals, 35 assists for 51 points in 34 career games.
The Sabres began the game without three regular defencemen, and then lost another less than nine minutes in when Rasmus Ristolainen was issued a five-minute major for interference and ejected for his hit on Jake Guentzel. Ristolainen had his back turned while lining up Guentzel for a hit as the Penguins forward crossed his blue line along the left boards.
Guentzel turned his head at the last moment and didn’t appear to see Ristolainen coming. Guentzel got up briefly before stumbling to the ice and did not return after being escorted immediately to the locker room.
NOTES: Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said forwards Kyle Okposo (ribs) and William Carrier (knee) have resumed skating and have an opportunity to return within the next week. … Penguins C Evgeni Malkin skated at Pittsburgh earlier in the day but missed his third straight game with an upper-body injury. … Frank Corrado became the 14th defenceman to suit up for the Penguins this season. Called up from the minors Monday, Corrado made his Penguins debut after being acquired in a trade with Toronto on March 1.
Penguins: At Ottawa on Thursday.
Sabres: Host Toronto on Saturday.
John Wawrow, The Associated Press