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Lagace Steps In and Posts Shutout in Pens Debut

He made 29 saves to help the Pens earn a 1-0 win in their regular-season finale

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

Maxime Lagace couldn't have asked for a better Penguins debut.

The 28-year-old netminder recorded the first shutout of his career in Pittsburgh's 1-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres in their regular-season finale on Saturday at PPG Paints Arena.

"I think probably what I'll remember the most is when the buzzer sounded at the end there," Lagace said. "I don't even know how to describe it. It was such a relief. 

"Within the last four minutes, I started to think about the shutout. It was creeping into my head a little bit. I wanted it so bad. The boys didn't give up a shot, so I'm thankful and I'm very, very happy to be here."

His teammates and coaches were absolutely thrilled to see Lagace get rewarded with how he stepped up and produced a 29-save effort in a victory with big implications in the standings for the Penguins.

They clinched home-ice advantage in Round One of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and will finish no worse than second place in the East Division.

"He was awesome for us, obviously," forward Jared McCann said. "He was a big part of our win. If it wasn't for him, it would definitely would have been a different story."

And what a great story it ended up being.

As head coach Mike Sullivan said before the game, there hasn't been a position on this team that hasn't been tested depth-wise. And today, that was the goaltender position, as both Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith were unavailable due to injury (they are both day-to-day and will be good to go for the start of playoffs). 

The next man up was Lagace, who joined the Penguins organization this offseason as a free agent and spent the year split between the taxi squad and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League, where he compiled a 4-3-2 record, 2.30 goals-against average and .907 save percentage. 

"It's been a challenging year for those guys," Sullivan said. "I give them a lot of credit. They've worked so hard at just controlling what they can to keep their game sharp and staying ready because you just don't know when you're going to get tapped on the shoulder to get in the lineup, and today was a perfect example. 

"Max deserves a ton of credit for his preparation and how hard he worked, and I was thrilled for him. We're all thrilled for him that he played as well as he did."

Lagace admitted that there were a lot of nerves heading into his first NHL start since Feb. 1, 2019 - but that he just tried to keep it simple, clear his head as much as possible and let the game come to him.

"I didn't want to overcomplicate anything," he said. "I just wanted to come in, do what I do. … I tried to have fun, and I did."

While the Penguins would have preferred not to give up as many shots - with Buffalo holding 11-3 and 24-9 edges in that category after the first and second periods, respectively - Lagace said that helped him relax and get into a rhythm. 

"When you get a couple shots right off the bat, it gets rid of those nerves and you just feel more confident as the game goes on," he said. "They put a lot of pucks on net for the first two periods, so I felt really comfortable. The guys cleared every rebound that had to be cleared, so it makes my job that much easier. I have them to thank for the result as well."

While the Penguins tilted the ice more in their favor in the third period, Lagace did have to come up with game-preserving save against Victor Olofsson, who had a point-blank chance in the slot.

"I was telling the boys, when he shot it, I just literally put my glove up and it hit," Lagace said with a laugh. "Sometimes you got to be lucky, and I'll take it."

No matter what happens from here, Lagace can look back and know he made a big contribution to the Penguins' success this season.

"It's great being part of the Pittsburgh Penguins," Lagace said. "Growing up it was one of the teams you looked up to. It's a great, great group. I'm very proud to be able to be part of the Penguins. Obviously tonight is going to be a night I'll remember, for sure."

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