BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP)—The Buffalo Sabres refuse to let go of their slim playoff hopes.
The win helped the Sabres climb within six points of the New York Islanders for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. Both teams have five games remaining.
“A lot of people gave up on this team a long time ago,” McKee said. “Everyone in this room is playing confident right now, and we’re up to the challenge.”
The Sabres haven’t qualified for the postseason since 2000-01, and have never missed the playoffs in three consecutive seasons in their 34-year history.
“Every game is a must win,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “When teams above us look at it, they must be thinking we won’t go away. If they skip a beat, we can still close on them.”
Milan Kraft scored for Pittsburgh, which had its three game winning streak snapped.
“They played their ‘A’ game,” Kraft said. “We had some great chances, but didn’t come ahead in the score.”
The Penguins came into the game as one of the hottest teams in the league, having gone 10-3-2 since an 18-game winless streak (0-17-0-1). In addition, the Penguins hadn’t lost to the Sabres in nine games dating to Oct. 14, 2001.
“Right now, against any team, we have to win,” said Sabres goalie Martin Biron, who made 24 saves in winning his fourth straight game. “It’s not to just live another day—it’s to tighten things up.”
Buffalo opened the scoring in the first period after Briere scored his 26th of the season at 16:45 on the power play. Standing in the left corner, Briere banked his passing attempt to Drury off Pittsburgh defenseman Josef Melichar’s skate directly in front of Penguins goaltender Sebastien Caron.
Pittsburgh answered with a power-play goal by Kraft that tied the game at 1 with just over 13 minutes remaining in the second. The tally gave the Penguins power-play goals in 12 straight games, and also put the Sabres back on their heels.
But McKee and Drury broke the game open with less than five minutes to go in the second.
Breaking up the ice on the rush, McKee scored his second goal of the season, converting a rebound of Milan Bartovic’s shot on a four-on-two break.
Drury then scored his 17th of the season at 16:21, sliding the puck past Caron on a partial two-on-one with Jochen Hecht.
“Pittsburgh’s a great team on the power play and they got some momentum after that goal,” Biron said. “We started to play sloppy and were actually lucky to get out of there with the lead.”
Caron made 26 stops for the Penguins, 8-3-2 in March.
“They’re playing to be in the playoffs,” Caron said. “They got a couple good bounces, so there’s not much you can do.”
Afinogenov scored his 16th goal with 7:02 left in the game, and Peters added his second into an empty net with 3:30 to go after Caron was pulled for an extra attacker.
“We didn’t generate as much as we would have liked in the first period,” Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk said. “You’re going to make your own breaks, and I believe tonight Buffalo made theirs.”
Hecht had three assists for Buffalo, and has 15 points in his last nine games.
“There’s no sitting back for us now,” McKee said. “We don’t want this toend.”
Sabres managing partner Larry Quinn said Friday that GM Darcy Regier and Ruff will be back no matter whether the team qualifies for the postseason. … The Penguins’ team record for wins in March is 11, set by the 1992-93 Presidents Trophy-winning team, which went 11-2. … The teams will meet again on Saturday in Pittsburgh. … Buffalo outshot Pittsburgh 17-5 in the first period. … Biron made his 11th start in the Sabres’ last 12 games. … Aleksey Morozov assisted on Kraft’s goal, and has 13 points in the last eight games hehas played.