A frustrating season for the Buffalo Sabres ended with a 2-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night at First Niagara Center. With the loss, Buffalo finished its season with 54 points, last in the National Hockey League, and the Penguins clinched a spot in the postseason.
“It’s frustrating, but we made the most of it coming in with a smile on our faces,” Sabres forward Tyler Ennis said afterward. “As bad as it got sometimes, we still tried to compete every day and I think, especially, our young guys made some good strides and we’re looking forward to next year.”
Brandon Sutter scored both goals for Pittsburgh in the loss. Anders Lindback made 36 saves in net for the Sabres, who were outshot 38-28 on the night. Opposing him was Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped all 28 shots he faced for his NHL leading 10th shutout of the season. Fleury previously posted an 18-save shutout against the Sabres on Nov. 1.
“We just weren’t able to penetrate enough at their net and get enough sustained pressure to take advantage of,” Sabres captain Brian Gionta said. “I think everybody battled through the end, there’s a lot of pride in this room and I think it showed down the stretch that nobody gave up, nobody packed it in and we played hard until the end.”
Lindback kept the Sabres in the game early with 29 saves in the first two periods. He faltered only once in a second period in which Buffalo was outshot 16-7, when Sutter beat Rasmus Ristolainen for a backhand shot in front of the net that put Pittsburgh ahead 1-0.
“I know they had a lot of good chances but that’s what goaltenders are for,” Sabres head coach Ted Nolan said. “Lindback, the way he came in development of some of our younger players, you had to be happy with that.”
Sutter added an insurance goal for the Penguins midway through the third period. Daniel Winnik, alone in front of the net, got Lindback to commit and then passed it across to Sutter, who scored his second of the night on an open net. Buffalo fought back, outshooting the Penguins 11-8 in the final period, but could not break Fleury.
“I thought we played as hard we could,” Nolan said. “It’s tight, with a lot of kids in the lineup it’s a testament to how hard they worked.”
Coming into Saturday night, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby had collected a point in his last 19 games against the Sabres, a streak that dated back to Dec. 29, 2007. There were no active Sabres on the roster for that game, and Crosby has dominated in Buffalo ever since; he tallied 14 points in his last four visits to First Niagara Center alone.
That streak came to an end on Saturday, as a defensive effort led by Zach Bogosian held Crosby to only two shots on goal, both of which were turned away by Lindback. Crosby’s off night also put him on the losing end of a three-way race to finish as the league’s leader in points; Dallas’ Jamie Benn won that title with a four-point performance against Nashville.
Despite their last place finish, the Sabres players were looking ahead to their future with optimism after the game. Buffalo will pick in one of the top two spots in this year’s NHL Entry draft, adding to a roster that will benefit from the addition of trade acquisition Evander Kane and the development of a core of young, talented players.
“We’re excited to see Evander Kane next year, we’re excited to see whoever we get in the draft, we’re excited to see how our young guys progress; they did a good job this year,” Ennis said. “We want to make sure that they don’t get used to losing.”
That process began down the stretch this season, and if there was a consistent feeling in the Sabres locker room after their season ended on Saturday night, it was pride in the fact that nobody on the team packed it in despite the circumstances.
“This is a real good group of guys. Like I said, you don’t have to be the most skilled or the best in the world to be a professional team and to act like you’re a champion,” Nolan said. “These guys are a real group, they played hard, and that was one of the things that we mentioned from the beginning, we wanted to play hard for the fans.”