By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO STATS Writer
Buffalo (19-21-6) at Pittsburgh (35-10-0), 7:30 p.m. EDT
That definitely wasn’t the case the last time they met the Buffalo Sabres.
Iginla looks to continue his recent scoring surge and lead the Penguins to an eighth consecutive win Tuesday night against the last-place Sabres, who ended Pittsburgh’s previous lengthy winning streak earlier this month.
The Penguins (35-10-0) have won 22 of their last 24 and seven in a row after beating Ottawa 3-1 on the road Monday in what could be an opening-round playoff preview.
“This is one week or whatever it is until playoffs and we want to go in with good habits, and keep trying to get better,” Iginla said. “Honestly, to keep winning. Winning is fun. Whatever the two points mean in the standings or whatever it is, it’s fun winning and playing well as a group.”
Pittsburgh is playing so well that it’s already headed to the postseason with the best record in the Eastern Conference, and sits three points behind idle Chicago in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy. The Penguins hold the tiebreaker, and both teams have three games left in the regular season.
Cutting into that gap will require a measure of revenge since the Penguins fell 4-1 at home to Buffalo (19-21-6) on April 2, ending their 15-game winning streak.
That meeting included Iginla’s first goal in his second game with Pittsburgh after he was acquired from Calgary.
The star right wing has four goals and four assists in 10 games since the deal, finding the net once in each of the past three games while also setting up another.
That boost has been useful with plenty of Pittsburgh’s big names sidelined. Sidney Crosby (broken jaw), Evgeni Malkin (shoulder), Kris Letang (food poisoning), James Neal (concussion), Paul Martin (hand), Beau Bennett (upper body) and Mark Eaton (rest) all missed Monday’s game.
So did Marc-Andre Fleury who was with his wife as she prepares to give birth to the couple’s first child. It’s unclear if he’ll be ready Tuesday after not traveling to Ottawa, where backup Tomas Vokoun made 34 saves for his 300th career victory.
Coach Dan Bylsma said he intends to play Fleury in the final three games if available.
Fleury is 11-1-0 with a 1.92 goals-against average over his last 13 games - 12 starts. He’s also 10-2-0 with a 2.34 GAA while starting 12 of his last 14 games against Buffalo. He replaced an ineffective Vokoun early in the second period April 2, and stopped all 16 shots he faced.
Vokoun surrendered four goals on 13 shots in that meeting, and he’s 1-3-1 with a 3.43 GAA over his last six games against the Sabres. However, he’s won all three starts since the latest matchup, compiling a 2.00 GAA.
Buffalo is already eliminated from playoff contention and will finish last in the Northeast Division for the first time since 2003-04.
The Sabres have won five of nine since the last visit to Pittsburgh, but they’re entering this one trying to avoid a three-game slide after falling 2-1 to Winnipeg on Monday.
Thomas Vanek has two goals and two assists over the past four games after getting the lone Buffalo tally Monday. The left wing missed the last meeting with the Penguins due to an upper-body injury, but has three goals and three assists in his last five in the series.
Cody Hodgson had a goal at Pittsburgh earlier this month, but has just two in nine games since.
The Penguins have won all 19 games when leading after two periods.