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NHL: Pittsburgh 5, Buffalo 3

March 30, 2012 at 11:34 PM

BUFFALO, N.Y., March 30 (UPI) -- James Neal put Pittsburgh in front to stay midway through the second period Friday and the Penguins ended a two-game skid by downing Buffalo 5-3.

As a byproduct of Buffalo's loss, the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins wrapped up a playoff spot for the fifth straight year. The Eastern Conference playoff bracket is now half full, with Boston joining the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in the post-season.

The Penguins stayed within five points of the Rangers for the lead in the Atlantic Division but both teams have just four games left to play.

The Penguins and Sabres battled to a 2-2 tie after one period, and Neal scored on the power play with 8:17 to go in the second. Steve Sullivan added a Pittsburgh goal less than 4 minutes later.

Buffalo clawed back within one on Thomas Vanek's backhander late in the second but Pittsburgh protected the lead until Jordan Staal clinched it with an empty-net goal in the final minute.

Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby both scored for the Penguins in the opening period. Crosby bounced back from taking a puck to the face Thursday in a loss to the New York Islanders.

Brent Johnson made 25 saves for Pittsburgh. Ryan Miller allowed four goals on 33 shots for Buffalo, which had a five-game winning streak snapped.

Buffalo and idle Washington are tied for the eighth playoff spot in the East but the Capitals have the tiebreak advantage because they have more non-shootout victories.

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