After an ugly matinee in which they were on the ice for four goals against in the first 10 minutes, the defensive tandem of Jaro Spacek and Brian Campbell again made a huge mistake in Sunday’s 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh, allowing the Penguins a breakaway opportunity when Jarko Ruutu stepped out of the penalty box.

Campbell, whose minus-2 on the night gave him a minus-6 for the weekend, allowed Ruutu to sneak behind him when he returned after a hooking call.

Ruutu had yet to score in 47 games this season, but he took a pass from Ryan Malone, streaked in on Ryan Miller, and deposited a perfect backhand to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead.

“We let a guy come out of the penalty box and we knew he was going out, but we still let him get a breakaway,” Lindy Ruff said. “We had coaches yelling and he still got behind us. The big mistakes turned into goals and our big opportunities went by the way side.”

Campbell’s defensive struggles come while a number of scouts were hovering in the press box. Scouts from Florida, Columbus, Atlanta, Carolina, Ottawa, Edmonton, Washington, Calgary, Nashville, and Boston all applied for credentials for Sunday’s game.

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With his sterling performance against the Sabres, Pittsburgh goalie Ty Conklin continued an improbable season that’s seen him go from Sabre backup to Penguins starter.

This isn’t uncharted territory, though. Buffalo once pried a backup named Dominik Hasek from Chicago and he turned out to be the league’s most valuable player.

And Toni Lydman saw something similar when he was with the Calgary Flames. The team dealt for San Jose third-stringer Miikka Kiprusoff, and he’s become the defensive cornerstone of the franchise.

“I’ve seen this before,” Lydman said. “He was a third-string goalie and he turned into one of the best in the league. There were some seasons where he was the best in the league. Sometimes that happens when I guy gets the opportunity he’s been waiting for.”

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The game-winner came off the stick of Petr Sykora, who had a goal and an assist for the Penguins. The goal came with Michael Ryan in the penalty box for a slash and knocked the Sabres off their perch as the team’s best home penalty-killing unit. Buffalo had given up a league low 12 goals down a man coming into the contest.

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Apparently, toughness isn’t only a trait given to hockey players. Referees get their share as well.

In the second period, Jordan Staal carried the puck along the half-wall in the Buffalo zone, then fired the puck behind the net. Stall unintentionally fired the puck directly at referee Gord Dwyer, whose natural instinct was to raise his hands to block it.

Dwyer was injured on the play, but didn’t miss a second of action. After seeing a Sabres trainer for some tape, the referee jumped right back into the action.

Contact group sports editor Tim Schmitt at 282-2311, ext. 2266.

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