Girgensons scores late, Sabres beat Penguins
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen's shaky December is behind him.
“I think that was the most confident, poised I’ve seen him play in his whole career," Buffalo forward Alex Tuch said of Luukkonen. "He’s got a shutout or two, but that was just so much confidence (tonight).”
Tuch's 10th goal of the season on a breakaway in the first period gave Buffalo an early lead. Rasmus Dahlin provided some insurance with a long flip into an empty Pittsburgh net just as Jarry headed to the bench for an extra skater as the Sabres won for just their second time in their last nine visits to PPG Paints Arena.
“I’ve said it for weeks now, it’s a mentality,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. "Talked about (us playing with) some mojo, some swagger. We didn’t have that and we played with fear. Tonight, you don’t come through that game unless you have that swagger and fearlessness.”
Luukkonen won his second straight start following a stretch from Nov. 30-Dec. 23 in which he went 0-5-1 and allowed at least four goals four times.
The 24-year-old from Finland also received a bit of help from his coaches when the Sabres successfully challenged a pair of Pittsburgh goals in the first period.
Drew O'Conner's tap-in from in front was waved off after a replay showed Sidney Crosby was offside as the Penguins entered the zone.
Pittsburgh had a second goal taken away when officials ruled Penguins forward Jake Guentzel interfered with Luukkonen while redirecting a shot by Crosby. Guentzel did appear to brush against Luukkonen as the puck entered the crease.
“A couple of goals against that ended up going back and (Luukkonen) didn’t get rattled at all,” Tuch said. “He went right back in there, made a couple big saves on breakaways. Never wavered.”
Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said Guentzel did make light contact with Luukkonen but didn't think it affected the outcome of the play.
“Based on that decision, our coaching staff needs to take a long look at the criteria of our understanding of what (interference) is,” Sullivan said.
The Penguins did eventually tie it when Rickard Rakell scored near the end of a two-man advantage 7:49 into the third. Pittsburgh continued to press but Luukkonen held firm and the Sabres broke through with 4:38 remaining when Girgensons fought his way to the front of the Penguins' net and flicked a backhand past Jarry.
“Just got to keep pushing,” Guentzel said. "I thought we actually played pretty well and had a lot of the chances but just can’t give that one up in the third. It’s a tough one.”
Jarry made 29 saves for the Penguins but appeared to be momentarily caught off guard when Connor Clifton threaded a pass from the Buffalo zone to Tuch standing all alone at the Pittsburgh blue line.
Tuch took a few strides toward the goaltender then fired a wrist shot by Jarry 2:53 into the first. Jarry, pulled from a loss to Washington on Tuesday after a shaky start, quickly settled down but couldn't get in front of Girgenson's attempt from in close as Pittsburgh failed to build off a thrilling 6-5 win in Boston on Thursday.
“We did a lot of things that we set out to accomplish,” Sullivan said. "We just didn’t win on the scoreboard.”
Luukkonen made sure of it. He turned away a handful of breakaways, including a slick save on Guentzel late in the second period that was symbolic of the night.
“They were good reads,” Luukkonen said. "It feels good to make those saves in those types of games and those types of situations. Sometimes that happens, there’s some defensive breakdowns. But it feels good to come up with the saves.”
Sabres: Begin a six-game homestand on Tuesday night when Seattle visits.
Penguins: Travel to cross-state rival Philadelphia on Monday night.
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