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Ty Conklin gets first shutout in nearly two years, Pens beat Sabres 2-0

PITTSBURGH - Ty Conklin is heating up at exactly the right time, just when the Pittsburgh Penguins are about to venture into the great outdoors.

Conklin, stuck in the minors a month ago, won his fourth in a row and Sidney Crosby set up both Pittsburgh goals to help the Penguins beat the weary Buffalo Sabres 2-0 Saturday night.

In the front end of a back-to-back series that ends with Tuesday's much-hyped Winter Classic outdoor game in Buffalo, this was no classic despite strong goaltending by Conklin and Buffalo's Ryan Miller.

"Certainly the win was the nicest thing, but it's nice for the team to get a shutout, too," Conklin said.

Conklin, a Buffalo backup briefly last season, made 26 saves in his second win in three days and his first shutout since Jan. 3, 2006, with Edmonton against Chicago. He had a relatively easy night, rarely facing second chances by clearing out any rebounds before they could cause problems.

"He's pretty confident back there, and some plays he's almost like a third defenceman," Crosby said. "A speedy team like Buffalo that has a great forecheck, a goalie like him who can handle the puck really helps out a lot. We did a good job of not giving up too much."

Colby Armstrong and Evgeni Malkin scored for the Penguins, who won their third in a row and 12th in 17 games since they were a season-worst 8-11-2. Malkin scored his 15th goal, into an open net with 21.2 seconds remaining after Miller turned aside 23 of 24 shots. Miller made 34 saves Friday as Buffalo lost to New Jersey 2-1 in a shootout.

The victory came at a cost: Gary Roberts, the Penguins' 41-year-old forward, broke his left leg after becoming tangled with Buffalo's Tim Connolly in the left circle midway through the second period.

"The young players in our lineup will have to compensate for the leadership that we won't have from Gary Roberts, and we don't know for how long," coach Michel Therrien said.

Conklin was at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL before being called up Dec. 6 - a day after starter Marc-Andre Fleury badly sprained an ankle, an injury that may sideline him another month. Conklin backed up Dany Sabourin for four of his first five games with Pittsburgh, but has been in net for all the Penguins' victories as they have won four of five.

Conklin might have the edge over Sabourin to start in the first NHL outdoor game played in the United States. Conklin also was in goal for the only previous outdoor game, Edmonton's 4-3 loss to Montreal in the Heritage Classic in November 2003.

Buffalo played its sixth game in 11 days, a difficult stretch leading up to the much-hyped Ralph Wilson Stadium game that will be played before an NHL-record crowd of 74,000-plus, and it showed. Right now, the Sabres need to win a game, indoors or outdoors.

The Sabres have lost three straight after winning six in a row and looked tired by the third, when they took three penalties that aided Pittsburgh's successful attempt to protect its 1-0 lead.

"We just seemed to lack any jump throughout the team," coach Lindy Ruff said. "I don't know if it was the amount of games or playing back-to-back, but it was almost a collective push. ... It was an effort tonight that lacked a lot of energy."

Or, as defenceman Brian Campbell said, "The effort was there in a lot of areas, we just couldn't find a way, it's frustrating. We've got to put a push on here and stay positive."

Armstrong supplied Pittsburgh's 1-0 lead with his fifth goal, one created by Crosby's strong rush immediately after the second period began. Crosby put his shoulder down to hold off Jochen Hecht and secure the puck at the blue line, then faked shooting twice before slipping a pass to Armstrong in the crease only 12 seconds into the period.

"He's going to the net there and I'm just trying to give him the puck - you score goals when you go to the net and obviously he was rewarded for that," Crosby said.

Armstrong, who missed several other good scoring chances earlier in the game, has two goals and five assists in five games after going scoreless in six games.

"We were not pleased earlier in the season but I really like the way he's playing now," Therrien said. "Any time you get a chance to play with Crosby and Malkin, you don't want to lose that opportunity."

Notes: Penguins F Peter Sykora was scratched due an undisclosed illness. ... Jocelyn Thibault, Pittsburgh's backup goalie last season, is now with the Sabres. ... The Penguins have won 7 of 11 since Fleury was hurt Dec. 5. ... Penguins F Ryan Malone (infected leg cut) returned after sitting out five games. ... Before the game, Roberts slipped and went to the ice while being presented with an award honouring him for recently scoring his 900th point. ... Pittsburgh, coming off a 4-3 win over Washington on Thursday, is four games above .500 (20-16-2) for he first time this season. ... Roberts' injury is the second major one for Pittsburgh this week. D Mark Eaton (torn right knee ligament) is also out indefinitely.


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