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HOCKEY

Pens continue mastery of Sabres with 3-1 win

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.

Mark Letestu also had a goal and Marc-Andre Fleury made 29 saves for Pittsburgh, which swept the season series with the Sabres in winning their sixth consecutive game against them.

Neal's goal was his first in seven games since being acquired from Dallas, and Michalek — who added an assist — scored for the first time in 59 games this 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.

The Sabres fell to 3-1-1 during their franchise record-tying seven-game roadtrip and lost on the road in regulation for the first time since Feb. 4 — in Pittsburgh. That day also marked the previous time the Penguins won a game in regulation.

Buffalo remained a point ahead of idle Carolina in the race for the final playoff spot.

Sabres leading scorer Thomas Vanek was scratched due to the flu, and Buffalo also was without winger Mike Grier — who missed his second consecutive game with a lower-body injury — and Jochen Hecht, who sat out his third straight due to an upper-body ailment.

The Penguins welcomed back winger Chris Kunitz after he had missed the previous 13 games with an unspecified injury.

Eighty-five seconds into the second period, Neal scored for only the second time in 18 games dating to his time with Dallas, receiving a pass from Deryk Engelland while standing just to the left side of Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller and throwing the puck into the far side of the net for his 22nd of the season.

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.

It was Michalek's first goal since Jan. 14, 2010 — a span of 92 games — and it at first appeared as if he added another with 5:54 left in the game when he took a wrist shot from above the right circle. But Letestu was able to get a piece of the shot with his stick, getting it past Miller. It was his 12th of the season.

After going 67 games between goals, Niedermayer scored for the second consecutive game just 2:47 into the contest, taking it to the net after beating Paul Martin down the right wing and depositing a shot between the legs of Fleury.

Notes: Pittsburgh went 0 for 6 on the power play. ... The Sabres entered a game while holding down a playoff spot for the first time since the first week of the season but fell to 17-8-4 since Jan. 1. ... Pittsburgh had played four straight overtime games heading into the contest and would have tied a franchise record had this game gone past regulation. ... Fleury has allowed only five goals in four starts against Buffalo this season. ... The game was the Penguins' 199th consecutive home sellout.