Michael Houser was still catching his breath when he arrived for his media session after playing the game of his life on Monday. Going fourteen months between games will do that a goaltender.
"I'm not really in that great of game shape either, I'll admit that," the 28-year-old journeyman said after his NHL debut. "… After the game celebrating and everything, I could barely breathe."
Houser became the sixth goalie to start a game for the Sabres this season and turned in a steady 34-save performance to earn a 4-2 victory over the New York Islanders at KeyBank Center. It was Houser's first game since March 7, 2020, a pre-pandemic shutout for ECHL Cincinnati.
Sam Reinhart tallied two goals and an assist during the third period to complete a comeback after New York took a 2-0 lead. Tage Thompson and Rasmus Asplund also scored goals.
Afterward, they rallied around their goaltender and celebrated the odds he had overcome, nine seasons into his professional career.
"I'm just extremely happy for him," Ristolainen said. "Good things happen for good people."
Our takeaways begin with Houser's unforgettable night.
Video: Condensed Game: Islanders @ Sabres
1. "They always tell you to stay ready"
Houser admitted Monday that there were times when his NHL dream felt further away than the seven-hour drive between Cincinnati and Buffalo. He last appeared in an AHL game during the 2017-18 season, spending the last two years on an AHL contract with the Rochester Americans but playing exclusively for ECHL Cincinnati.
But the goaltending position is unique. He told himself that he was an absence or two away from getting a shot in Rochester. From there, who know?
"I know it's so cliché, but they always tell you to stay ready," he said. "I've taken that to heart the last few years, mostly for a chance to play for the Amerks and take that net, if I ever had the chance to do that. Just being a weird year, I kind of skipped that step and got this game."
Video: POSTGAME: Houser
The Sabres signed Houser to an NHL contract on March 19 as injuries to their goaltending corps mounted. He backed up a few games but mostly spent his time with the Sabres on the taxi squad, leaving an impression with his attitude and work ethic.
"There's not many times he says no," Thompson said. "If I want to do breakaways with him after an hour practice and he's gassed, he'll still say yes. He's always looking to get better."
The opportunity to play arose Monday with Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (injury) and Dustin Tokarski (personal reasons) both unavailable. Houser called to alert his parents, the two people he says have seen every game since he was five years old.
He stepped in and looked the part, limiting rebounds and keeping the Islanders at bay long enough for his teammates to mount the comeback. The two shots that beat him were both deflections, including one off the stick of his own defenseman.
"It's so exciting," he said. "Like, I've worked my whole life for this, for it to happen. Just to play a game is really special. But to win, winning is always the goal. That's why we play."
2. Houser to start again Tuesday
Granato said Houser will get a second straight start against the Islanders on Tuesday. Tokarski is unavailable due to a family matter.
3. Reinhart leads comeback
Reinhart had a four-game goal streak snapped during a loss to Boston on Saturday. He made up for it during the third period, tallying two goals and an assist to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead.
Reinhart ignited the comeback when he deked around Scott Mayfield and sent a pass through the crease to set up Asplund's tying goal with 8:35 remaining. He deflected a point shot past Semyon Varlamov for the go-ahead goal with 4:04 on the clock.
Finally - as he had to seal Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen's first NHL win last month - he lofted a shot from his own end into the empty New York net to add cushion during the final minute.
Video: NYI@BUF: Reinhart redirects go-ahead goal home late
The two-goal outing ups Reinhart's total to 25, matching the career-best mark he set in 82 games in 2017-18.
4. Thompson fires away
Thompson scored his power-play goal on a shot from the right faceoff circle, one of a game-high seven shots on goal he tallied against Varlamov. The goal snapped an eight-game drought.
"I thought he was outstanding tonight," Granato said. "He had great jump and great energy but played with a lot more intent. … He dominated a straightforward, hard-nosed game and when you combine that with his skill set and his size and reach, it's very impressive."
5. Up next
The Sabres play their final home game of the season against the Islanders on Tuesday. Coverage on MSG begins at 6:30 p.m. with puck drop set for 7.