Lagace, making his first start in more than two years, got his seventh career win, and helped Pittsburgh clinch first place in the East Division when Washington needed overtime to beat Philadelphia. The Penguins were without Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith, their top two goaltenders, for the regular season finale.
“Probably, what I’ll remember most is when the buzzer sounded,” Lagace said. “It was such a relief. Within the last four minutes, I’d say I started to think about the shutout. It was creeping into my head a little bit and I wanted it so bad.”
Carter scored his 17th goal as the Penguins finished the regular season with 13 wins and points in 14 of their last 16 games. Pittsburgh also finished 22-4-2 at home, one of the best marks in the league.
Michael Houser, who grew up in northern Pittsburgh suburbs, made 22 saves for Buffalo. Houser made his fourth straight start for the Sabres, who used a NHL-high six goalies this season.
Lagace played with the Vegas Golden Knights when he made his last start on Feb. 1, 2019, against Carolina. Lagace, who played in his 18th NHL game, joined Pittsburgh as a free agent in the offseason, and split the year on the team’s taxi squad and minor league affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He served as the backup for five games with Pittsburgh, including the last two before Saturday’s start.
“Playing my first NHL game in two years, I wanted to keep it simple,” Lagace said. “I tried to have fun … I did have fun, and the boys played well in front of me. I’m obviously very happy with the result.”
“I read the pass, but the reaction on the (Olofsson) shot was probably instinct, honestly,” Lagace said. “When he shot it, I put my glove up and it hit. Sometimes you have to be lucky, and I’ll take it, obviously.”
Carter scored the game’s only goal at 1:58 of the second period from Frederick Gaudreau. Carter had the first four-goal game of his career during an 8-4 win against the Sabres on Thursday. He has five of Pittsburgh’s last nine goals.
The Sabres endured an 18-game winless streak midway through the regular-season, but they won eight of their final 21 games. Buffalo missed the playoffs for the 10th straight season, but the Sabres outshot Pittsburgh 11-3 in the first period and 24-9, as they only trailed by a goal through 40 minutes.
“I think our guys advanced,” Sabres interim coach Don Granato said. “They have a taste of confidence. They should have had no confidence after giving up eight goals the other day. They came in from the drop of the puck and had confidence, and that’s progress.”
Pittsburgh won its ninth division title in franchise history and first since the 2013-14 season.
The Penguins clinched their 15th consecutive playoff berth last week, the longest active streak in major North American professional sports.
“This is when the fun starts,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “We’ve done the heavy lifting to earn the privilege to compete for the Stanley Cup. I look forward to the next part of it with this group of players.”
Evgeni Malkin was unable to finish Saturday’s game against Buffalo.
Teddy Blueger centered the second line late in the third period and Jared McCann replaced Malkin on the top unit during a late power play. Malkin, who didn’t play the final 8:48 of regulation, recently returned to the lineup after missing 23 games with a lower-body injury.
Sullivan said Malkin thought he “tweaked something” on a collision, and that the team held him out for precautionary reasons.
“He got checked out afterwards and felt fine,” Sullivan said. “We don’t anticipate any issues moving forward.”
DeSmith is dealing with an upper-body injury, while Jarry is working through a lower-body injury. DeSmith missed his third game, while Jarry played in Thursday’s win against Buffalo.
Sullivan expects both Jarry and DeSmith to be ready when the playoffs start.
Penguins’ forward Brandon Tanev participated in his third full-contact practice on Friday, but he also missed the regular-season finale on Saturday. He missed his 18th consecutive game with an upper-body injury. Tanev has missed 24 of the last 26 games.
Penguins’ D Mike Matheson missed his fourth straight game after he was struck in the face with a puck May 1 at Washington.
CARTER NEARS 400
Carter is one goal from becoming the 101st player in NHL history and the second from the 2003 NHL Draft class to record 400 goals.
Carter has nine goals and 11 points in 14 games since Pittsburgh acquired the veteran forward from Los Angeles before the trade deadline. Carter had eight goals in 40 games with the Kings this season.