Same lineup as last game for the Penguins for their second-to-last game of the regular season.
And how ‘bout if for Houser-mania. The Wexford native Michael Houser and goalie who has worked his up through the ranks of the minor leagues brings a 2-0 career NHL record to face his hometown team.
In a very unexpected turn of events, the Sabres strike first, and just 2:45 into the contest. Mark Friedman loses the puck in the middle of the ice and the Pens aren’t back in numbers to defend. Drake Caggiula skates down the left side and rifles a short-side shot where the placement caught Jarry by surprise and, boom, just like that it’s 1-0 Buffalo.
Pittsburgh isn’t really rattled, they continue to get the better of the play and are skating well. Jeff Carter appears to come close to scoring off a nice pass from Jared McCann but defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen reaches out and prevents it from going to the back of the net.
Play continues but the off ice-officials later hit the horn to stop the play from above. This means they have looked and seen conclusive evidence on video that there was goal call missed and they might as well stop the play since the clock will reset anyways. Sure enough, after a quick confirmation Carter is awarded his fifth goal as a Penguin.
We knew it was in the whole time pic.twitter.com/EwKY8oGdTl— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) May 6, 2021
The Pens get some good fortune when Kasperi Kapanen just falls down while turning with the puck and Buffalo is assessed a tripping minor when their player never contacted Kapanen. Pittsburgh takes advantage of the good break with the second group as Kapanen feeds Jason Zucker who quickly one-touches a short pass out for Carter. Carter’s shot is just as quick and gets by Houser. 2-1 Pens take the lead.
Jeff Carter: 2— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) May 6, 2021
Buffalo Sabres: 1 pic.twitter.com/JyNjnbKN1I
Pittsburgh doubles up the shots in the first with a 10-5 edge and are pretty much all systems go through 20 minutes.
Buffalo scores again early in the period, this time it’s Casey Mittlestadt throwing a nice cross-ice pass that reaches Tage Thompson and Thompson angles it in through Jarry. 2-2 game.
The Pens get the lead back quickly, although temporarily. Frederick Gaudreau makes a nice pass to Marcus Pettersson who has jumped in the play. Pettersson finds Carter for the hat trick goal where he chips the puck in from in front of the net. Jeff Carter 3, Buffalo 2.
But you can’t keep the Sabres down. Colin Miller passes it over for Caggiula and it looks like the Pens tie up his stick, but a second effort allows Caggiula to sweep the puck into an open net. 3-3 tie game as the second goes crazy.
And then it’s Pens’ turn. Sidney Crosby wins an o-zone faceoff and Kris Letang chips it over for Brian Dumoulin to blast away from deep. Somehow it eludes Houser and the Pens are back in front 4-3 now.
Just 59 seconds later, the Pens pop off again. Gaudreau makes a nice play to bat down a Buffalo clearing pass and then another slick pass and McCann is all alone in the slot. That’s not what the Sabres need. McCann unleashes his signature wrist shot high to the blocker side and it hits paydirt. 5-3 Pens.
The third line of McCann-Carter-Gaudreau has now combined for four goals and four assists tonight. pic.twitter.com/coUJGX1UgS— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) May 7, 2021
After that wild stretch of five total goals in four minutes the scoring settles down, though the Pens hit another post along the way. Late in the period and late into a shift, Dumoulin takes a hooking penalty to give Buffalo their first power play of the contest.
Shots in the second are 13-6 Pens, and 23-11 Pittsburgh overall. Not a banner night for Mr. Jarry’s save percentage, but the home team doubles their lead in a crazy second period.
Pittsburgh kills off some carryover PK time to start the period and avoid giving Buffalo a third straight period with an early goal.
Instead it’s the Pens who score early. McCann breaks up the Sabres starting an outlet and bumps the puck for Carter. Carter’s on his backhand and maybe he noticed Houser was deep in his net, maybe he just winged it but Carter unleashes a really nice top shelf backhander and when you’re hot, you’re hot. Fourth goal of the night and it’s 6-3 Pens.
Pittsburgh keeps pouring it on. Letang shoots from the point and Crosby deflects it into the net to get in on the scoring fun as well. 7-3 Pens.
Sidney Crosby's hand-eye remains undefeated. pic.twitter.com/w2DiMAck2P— SB Nation NHL (@SBNationNHL) May 7, 2021
Jason Zucker throws the puck over the glass and the PK is back out to work. With just a few seconds left, Buffalo scores when Jeff Skinner is left unmarked in front of the net and he pulls the puck to his forehand and lifts it over Jarry. 7-4 game.
A shift after Malkin and Kapanen collided on the ice, they get back out there and are more constructive. Malkin sauces a backhand pass all the way across the ice. Kapanen collects it on his forehand and whips the puck past Houser. 8-4.
Kasperi Kapanen with an absolute laser of a shot for the Penguins' 8th goal of the game.— The Grinch (@shireyirving) May 7, 2021
This team is deep,,, folks. pic.twitter.com/TW47Ti4WGG
Time runs out and the scorefest is over.
- The Sabres now in May look better then when they played Pittsburgh in March, despite a lot of trade losses. They almost have like a 2003 or 2004 Penguin vibe as a young, hungry team that unfortunately clearly doesn’t have the talent to compete at the NHL level against a strong opponent but is still giving a good effort. I don’t mean that as an insult. Didn’t look to be the case in the earlier Pens/Sabres meetings, pre-coaching change.
- Pittsburgh was great in transition. Their skating and execution of the system to jump up and rush the ice with numbers is really impressive and visually fun to watch a good team thriving in a solid system. How many times have they knocked down clearing attempts and turned it into goals lately? At least a few times tonight again after doing it regularly against Philadelphia earlier in the week.
- That said, the team was a bit sloppy defensively and fine with playing loose and open-ended. This wasn’t a playoff type effort, but hey, can’t play the playoffs against a non-playoff opponent. The Pens scored 8 goals, but Mike Sullivan still has some points to ding them on. (That’s among reasons why he should be in the running for the Jack Adams).
- Probably the best case scenario for Jeff Carter when traded to the Pens was a Bill Guerin type deadline veteran add. Carter isn’t playing a first line role like Guerin was, but now 13 games into his Pittsburgh stint the fit right now is perfect. He’s solid down the middle and still clearly has the hands to chip in. Every game it looks like he’s getting more comfortable and settled in, which has been great to see unfold before our eyes. It doesn’t feel like going out on much of a limb to see him scoring a huge playoff goal at some point.
- Tage Thompson is going to have to be sad to see the Pens and Sabres leave the same division next season. Thompson has 8G in 37 games this season, with three of them coming against Pittsburgh in just five games.
- This will be a game Caggiula thinks fondly about all summer long. He only had one goal in 36 games on the season coming into tonight. Netted two, significantly increasing the output there.
- Gaudreau had a night to remember too, with his first career three point game (all assists, several of them very pretty). The Pens still have two forwards yet to return from injury, but the more Gaudreau plays, the more he’s making a case to force his way into the playoff lineup as a player who is generating a lot of positive for the team.
- The Hollywood-esque story of Michael Houser hit a big bump tonight. The Pens have a really good offense and they teed off on him. Houser’s nothing but a fighter and has been bouncing back forever, so we’ll see what Saturday holds.
- First six goals and other than a Crosby faceoff win, no points from the top six forwards. That’s great depth coming through. Then the big guns got in on the action for goals seven and eight. Granted, the competition in play is what it is, but that’s now 15 goals for the Pens in the last two games. 15! Great to see the offense clicking on all cylinders at this time of the year.
Well, we’ve all made it to the end of the regular season road. One more game, Saturday afternoon against the same Sabres to finish it out.