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Recap: Maxime Lagace, Mr Game 56. Penguins end season with 1-0 win over Buffalo

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The Pittsburgh Penguins make the best case they can to stay in first place, winning their last game of the season 1-0 over the Buffalo Sabres

Buffalo Sabres v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

Pregame

With Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith injured and unavailable to play, the Penguins turn to 28 year old Maxime Lagace today for his 18th career NHL game, and first as a Penguin. Chad Ruhwedel also gets in to a game for the first time in months.

First period

Early on the game has all the intensity of a September preseason game. The Pens do very, very little despite having the period’s only power play. Michael Houser only sees three shots in the first, and just one of them was a dangerous chance when Sidney Crosby fed Jake Guentzel on a 2-on-1. Guentzel got a pretty nice shot away but was robbed by a sliding Houser save.

On the other end, Buffalo gets 11 shots, but few were dangerous. Pittsburgh did well to keep the Sabres to the outside, but Maxime Lagace did have to make one really nice save on a Riley Sheahan one-timer.

Shots end up 11-3 in favor of Buffalo in the first.

Second period

Pittsburgh no doubt got some encouragement during intermission to ratchet it up a little bit and starts the period playing better. They score 1:58 in, off a fortunate bounce as a reward for some hard work and going to the net. Frederick Gaudreau continues to make good things happen, stealing a puck behind the Buffalo net and quickly centering it out for Jeff Carter. A Sabre player deflected the pass, which ramped off a stick, then off Carter’s arm and into the net. 1-0 Pittsburgh. When you’re livin’ right, you’re livin’ right and everything is turning up in Jeff Carter’s way right now.

The rest of the period the Sabres have the better of the play. They get their first power play when Jared McCann goes for tripping and throw a lot of rubber Lagace’s way. The goalie keeps battling and does very well to keep it in front of him through a barrage of chances.

Shots in the second period are 13-6 Buffalo, and 24-9 overall. Thanks to some great goaltending and a fortunate bounce, the Pens are pretty lucky to be up 1-0 at this point.

Third period

The game ambles on. Lagace makes another great save, this time on Victor Olofsson mid-way through to keep the Pens ahead.

Evgeni Malkin goes down to the ice in an awkward way and doesn’t look comfortable, taking only a shift for a few seconds after. Cool, cool.

With 4:38 remaining, Rasmus Ristolainen boards Guentzel and Pittsburgh is off to their second power play of the game. The Pens don’t score but it kills two minutes off the clock.

Buffalo pulls the goalie for a 6v5 chance and calls a timeout with 1:03 left to regroup. They can’t crack Lagace as the game comes to an end.

Some thoughts

  • The Penguins weren’t sharp or full of energy, but this was also the finish line of a condensed season and a fifth game in eight days. That’s an almost unheard of stretch in a normal season, but barely makes anyone blink an eye this year by now. But the players feel it and it takes a toll on the body.
  • The one thing Pittsburgh needed to do was get out of this game cleanly and avoid injury. That may or may not have happened with Malkin in the third period. He fell awkwardly trying to take a puck away from a player, and may have caught a skate too. His body language didn’t look like he was that comfortable, but at least there will be several days until the playoffs. Malkin didn’t leave for the locker room, but he also didn’t play in the late power play, which isn’t a great sign.
  • Two nights ago, an 8-4 goal-fest. Today a 1-0 game pretty much all day. Same teams, much different energy in this one.
  • Maxime Lagace: Mr. Game 56? Great job by him today to come in out of no where and get his first career NHL shutout and help his team get a crucial win.
  • The Pens end with a 22-4-2 record at home for the season. Sensational stuff there.
  • And now the Pens are at the finish line and await the results around the league (more in tomorrow’s Sunday standings). By virtue of the win today, Pittsburgh will be at worst the No. 2 seed in the East, and could clinch the first spot tonight if the Washington Capitals don’t win in regulation against the Flyers. Go Fl....uhh, can’t say it, but, y’know. Don’t win in 60, Caps. Washington would have to win both their remaining games (with a game vs. Boston on Tuesday) in order to leap-frog the Pens.

And now we wait for the dust to settle and the playoff schedule to be released and see how and when the Pens play next.