Penguins jump into 2nd in East with 3-2 win over Sabres

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Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evan Rodrigues (9) celebrates his goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres, Saturday, April 17, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Evan Rodrigues was so focused on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ late-season push to win the East Division title the forward didn’t realize the implications that came with beating his former team, the Buffalo Sabres.

While the Penguins jumped into second in the tightly contested divisional race, their 3-2 win on Saturday also eliminated the Sabres from playoff contention.

“I didn’t know that. I don’t think it was really on anyone’s minds for us,” said Rodrigues, who pumped his arm upon scoring a second-period goal to put the Penguins up 2-0. “We’re just trying to get better as a team so we can be going strong the rest of the season into the playoffs.”

Rodrigues spent his first five-plus seasons in Buffalo before being traded to Pittsburgh a year ago.

Tristan Jarry stopped 23 shots over the final two periods and 28 overall. Bryan Rust and Jared McCann also scored, and the Penguins improved to 10-2-2 in their past 14. Pittsburgh earned its 59th point to move one ahead of the idle New York Islanders, and remain three behind the Washington Capitals.

The New York Rangers’ win in over New Jersey earlier in the day combined with Buffalo’s loss made the Sabres the NHL’s first team eliminated from playoff contention with some three weeks left in the shortened 56-game season. Buffalo matched the league record in extending its playoff drought to a 10th consecutive year.

Having been out of contention for much of the past month, the Sabres focused on how much better they’ve been playing in going 5-3-2 since ending an 18-game winless skid.

“Just a little too late, I guess,” said Casey Mittelstadt, who scored his eighth goal of the season, and seventh in 10 games. “Obviously, there are some things we can build on and take into the next game.”