Buffalo Sabres' Cody Hodgson (19) collides with Pittsburgh Penguins' Paul Martin (7) and Matt Niskanen (2) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Buffalo, N.Y., Friday, March 30, 2012. (AP Photo/David Duprey)
BUFFALO, N.Y. - A swollen nose couldn't stop Sidney Crosby from enjoying a four-point night. And neither could Ryan Miller and the Buffalo Sabres.
"Not really getting much air through there right now," Crosby said Friday, referring to the cut he wore on the left side of his nose after being struck by a puck a night earlier on Long Island. "But other than that, it's pretty good."
In a season in which lingering concussion questions have hung over the Pittsburgh star, Sid The Kid provided a potent response in showing that he's in fact back by scoring a goal and adding three assists in the Penguins' 5-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres.
It was Crosby's third four-point night in 18 games this season, and it came on the heels of a two-game points drought in which the Penguins dropped consecutive games to the New York Islanders.
"He's the greatest thing I've ever seen," Penguins goalie Brent Johnson said. "Coming back the way he has is just fantastic. He's priceless."
Crosby not only helped the Penguins snap a mini-slump after losing three of the past four, but also put the brakes on Buffalo's late-season surge.
The Sabres (38-30-10) had a five-game winning streak snapped, and dropped into ninth place, behind the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference standings. Both teams have four games left and 86 points, but the Capitals hold the tiebreaker edge.
The Sabres' loss also allowed the idle Boston Bruins to clinch a playoff berth.
"We won't beat this thing to death," Sabres defenceman Jordan Leopold said. "There's a simple formula, we just move forward. We know we can play better."
Thomas Vanek, Tyler Ennis and Jordan Leopold scored for the Sabres, who dropped to 14-3-4 in their past 21, and lost for the first time in regulation in 10 games (7-1-2).
The Sabres squandered a golden opportunity to at least earn a point in the final 2:21, when Evgeni Malkin was penalized for delay of game after his clearing attempt sailed into the stands.
Vanek had two solid chances in front in the final 25 seconds, only to be turned away before Jordan Staal sealed the win by scoring into an empty net.
"You got to put it behind you," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said, already looking ahead to the game at Toronto on Saturday.
Steve Sullivan had a goal and two assists, and Pascal Dupuis set up two to extend his points streak to an NHL season-best 13 games, in which he has nine goals and eight assists. Malkin added a goal and assist in helping Pittsburgh (48-24-6) move four points ahead of fifth-place Philadelphia in the East.
"It's not as easy as just having one game and thinking you're there, it's a process," Crosby said. "You just try to take everything in stride, whether you have a good one or a bad one and try to get better."
Crosby became the NHL's seventh youngest player to reach the 600-point plateau, and he did it in the seventh-fewest games. Crosby now has 220 goals and 381 assists in 430 career games. At 24 years, 236 days, Crosby is the youngest player to hit the mark since Pierre Turgeon did it with the Islanders in 1994.
Crosby had a hand in the Penguins' first four goals in a game they never trailed, and built a 4-2 lead on Sullivan's tip in goal in front with 4:54 left in the second period.
After getting the secondary assist on Malkin's game-opening power-play goal 3:50 in, Crosby scored some 10 minutes later by sweeping a puck in through Miller's legs while parked to the right of the net.
Driving up the right wing, Crosby then made a perfect feed through the middle in setting up James Neal's power-play goal 11:43 into the second period. And Crosby wasn't done yet, chasing down a loose puck to the left of the net in helping set up Sullivan's goal 3 minutes later.
The Penguins won despite Johnson's ongoing struggles in making his first start after missing 19 games with an undisclosed injury. And it was the backup goalie's first game since being pulled after allowing three goals on 12 shots in 23 minutes of a 6-2 loss at Buffalo on Feb. 19.
Johnson got off to a shaky start, allowing two goals on the first eight shots he faced, including Ennis beating him through the legs from a bad angle that tied the game at 2. Johnson recovered to finish with 25 saves, including the final nine he faced.
Johnson did come up big in stopping Derek Roy set up alone in front with 2:15 left in the first period. Then there were his two stops on Vanek in the final minute.
Notes: Penguins D Matt Niskanen returned after missing four games with an upper-body injury, and C Joe Vitale returned after missing seven games with an upper-body injury. ... The Penguins close their season playing three of their final four games at home. ... Already missing D Christian Ehrhoff to a left knee injury, the Sabres lost D Mike Weber, who was hurt after being checked from behind by Matt Cooke in the second period. ...The Sabres announced their season-ending awards, as voted by the players. Captain and leading goal-scorer Jason Pominville was selected the MVP, backup G Jhonas Enroth rookie of the year and RW Patrick Kaleta unsung hero.
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