BUFFALO, New York (Ticker) -- Who needs the NHL's leading scorer when you've got "The Moose?" Rookie Johan Hedberg continued his improbable playoff run and Andrew Ference scored the go-ahead goal with 11:51 remaining as the Pittsburgh Penguins took a commanding lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
With Art Ross Trophy winner Jaromir Jagr sitting out with a charley horse, the Penguins got an empty-net goal and an assist from Alexei Kovalev to open the best-of-seven series with a pair of road wins.
Pittsburgh also took a two games to none lead in last year's conference semifinals before losing four straight to the Philadelphia Flyers. But that was without Hedberg, who has allowed one goal or less in six of eight playoff games.
"We've talked about it already. The general feeling is nothing is over," said Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux, who had an assist to extend his points streak to five games. "It happened last year. We were up 2-0 against Philly and they came back and beat us in the series.
"In the playoffs, you are going to face some teams who are very desperate, like the Sabres on Monday. You're going to have to be able to face the music every night and not get beat."
Nicknamed "The Moose," Hedberg stopped 21 shots to lower his goals-against average to 1.33 and improve his save percentage to .947. He trails only Toronto's Curtis Joseph in both categories.
"It's better than being down 2-0, but it's a long way from anything yet. We have not won nothing," Hedberg said. "We're going to approach (Game Three) as if it's a 0-0 series."
With the score tied, 1-1, Ference wristed a shot from the right faceoff circle. Buffalo defenseman James Patrick was tied up with Lemieux at the left goalpost, and the puck glanced off Patrick's right shoulder and deflected past helpless goaltender Dominik Hasek.
"Their defense were kind of running around because we had pressure on them," Ference said. "I was pretty wide-open, just tried to put it to the left-hand side of the net. I ended up flipping the shot, but it went off Patrick's back and in. That's the way you're going to score on a guy like Hasek, is getting those lucky bounces."
Ference is fifth on the Penguins in playoff scoring with two goals and four assists after collecting just 15 points in 41 games during the season.
"As a kid, watching playoffs, that's the time to perform. Any Western Canadian kid will tell you that," he said. "Regular season doesn't mean nothing. Everybody wants to be that playoff performer. Whether it be scoring goals or just making hits, that's something I've always strived for."
Hedberg helped Pittsburgh kill a late interference penalty on Lemieux and protected the lead with 11 saves in the third period.
Stu Barnes scored the lone goal for the Sabres, who have never won a playoff series after dropping the first two games.
"We played a solid game tonight. We have to take that game on the road," said Buffalo left wing Dave Andreychuk. "The pressure is on them, they want to win in their building. They're up 2-0. We've got nothing to lose, we're still in the series."
Buffalo played most of Saturday's contest with only four defenseman. Alexei Zhitnik was shaken up after absorbing a crushing open-ice hit from Kovalev with 5:17 left in the first period. Midway through the second, Jay McKee took the worst of a hit on Lemieux, leaving with a bloodied face.
"The effort that we got with Zhitnik and McKee out of the lineup, I thought you couldn't criticize that at all," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "Our forwards in the last 35 minutes, they did everything that they could to keep them out of our end. We played in their end and the only chance that they had was them bouncing it off the back of Patrick."
Coming off a 3-0 victory in Game One, the Penguins again never trailed. Robert Lang broke a scoreless tie 10:11 into the second period, wristing a shot from the left circle through Patrick's legs and off the left goalpost. The puck caromed off Hasek's hip and slid just across the goal line.
"They got a few lucky bounces. There's going to be lucky bounces, that's part of the game," Andreychuk said.
Barnes tied it on the power play just over 3 1/2 minutes later. With Penguins left wing Krzysztof Oliwa in the penalty box for roughing, Barnes wristed a perfectly placed shot from the left circle into the top right corner of the net.
The goal ended Hedberg's shutout streak at 110 minutes, 28 seconds.
"There was a screen, but he got a pretty good shot away, too. He really picked the corner," Hedberg said. "I'd rather have it on a great shot than a bad shot."
Buffalo had chances to take the lead early in the third period. Donald Audette stickhandled through the slot and was in alone on Hedberg before losing control of the puck with 19:31 left. Just over a minute later, Maxim Afinogenov came in on a partial breakaway, but Hedberg stood his ground and made a left pad stop.
"We worked hard out there, had some good chances, went to the net and the puck bounced the other way every time," Audette said.
Hasek made just 12 saves and helped Buffalo kill all four power plays. The Sabres have not allowed a goal in nine chances in this series.