On April 11 the Pens played the most important game of their 82-game season. It also happened to be the 82nd game of the season.
Pittsburgh was in Buffalo to play the Sabres in the back end of back-to-back contests. The Pens lost, 3-1, the previous night in the home finale against the NY Islanders and their chances of securing a playoff berth had waned to one last 60-minute contest.
It was simple. Win and they were in.
In the most important game of the year, it was Brandon Sutter who stepped up for the Pens. He scored both goals in a 2-0 victory for Pittsburgh that put them in the postseason for the ninth consecutive season.
“It didn’t matter whom it was coming from, we just needed to win, but it’s always nice to score goals,” said Sutter, who chipped in his 20th and 21st goals of the campaign.
Sutter, 26, topped the 20-goal mark for the second time in his career. The two-goal finale was just the cherry on top of a remarkable season for the seven-year veteran.
THE NUMBERS: Sutter enjoyed one of his best seasons in the NHL in 2014-15. He tied a career high with 21 goals while his 33 points and plus-6 were the second-highest totals of his career.
Sutter had a career-best four shorthanded goals. His four shorties were tied for the second most in the NHL. Sutter has seven shorthanded tallies in the past two seasons, tied for most in the league. The Pens were 15-3-1 when Sutter scored a goal.
Sutter was a workhorse for the team’s penalty killing unit once again. He led all forwards with 48 blocked shots, most of those coming on the PK.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS: Sutter scored 21 goals in 2009-10 while with Carolina. Back then he received much more ice time as a No. 2 center and wasn’t in a defensive shutdown role. So his ability to net 21 this past season shows that he is growing and becoming more of an offensive threat. But he hasn’t sacrificed any of his defensive talents, which are still heavily utilized by the Pens.
As always, the most important aspect of Sutter’s game is his reliability. For one, you know he’s going to be in the lineup. Since joining the Pens, Sutter has only missed three games in three seasons. Secondly, you know exactly what you’ll get from him each and every night. He’s going to be strong defensively, kill penalties and chip in offensively.
LOOKING AHEAD: Even though Sutter has played seven NHL seasons, the ’14-15 campaign showed that he still has room to grow. In his third full season with the Pens he stepped up in clutch situations and took on more of a leadership role in the locker room. With an entire year of the new coaching staff’s system under his belt, next season is setting up to be Sutter’s best yet.