BUFFALO – Hours before Michael Houser’s second NHL start, interim Sabres coach Don Granato said he wasn’t concerned about his goalie becoming fatigued.
Coaches, of course, rarely use the same goalie on back-to-back nights. The position is simply too taxing.
Granato was confident Houser, 28, would embrace the challenge and fight through against the New York Islanders in the home finale at KeyBank Center.
Sure enough, Houser looked sharp, stopping 45 shots and another three in the shootout as the Sabres roared back from another two-goal deficit to win 4-3.
When Houser thwarted Oliver Wahlstrom’s third-round shootout attempt, the Sabres let out a collective yell from the bench before skating out to embrace their goalie.
“It was great in the end that we didn’t win the shootout by scoring the goal,” Granato said on a Zoom call. “We won the shootout by making a save and that’s fitting with how he started the game. He finished the game helping us.”
Houser stopped 20 shots in the first period and 18 in the third, keeping the Sabres in the contest.
He said “everyone’s just happy to win” as a trying season nears its end.
“I’m sure they’re happy for me, personally, as well,” Houser said. “But in general, we know that the season’s winding down, we only have a few games left. To feel good going into the summer, that’s pretty big for everyone.”
After the Sabres fell behind 3-1, newcomer Anders Bjork took over, scoring twice in regulation and again in shootout. He tied the game 10:56 into the third period.
Granato promoted Bjork, a winger the Sabres acquired from the Boston Bruins last month, to the first line late in Monday’s 4-2 win over the Islanders.
But Tuesday was Houser’s night again.
After stopping 34 shots Monday, Houser, who has spent most of his career in the ECHL, said he was operating off adrenaline most of the game.
“Very impressed because he had to battle through,” Granato said of Houser’s performance. “We made things a little more challenging than we had to or a lot more challenging than we had to. He helped us weather a storm until we got our legs and got to our game, which really didn’t happen until, at the earliest, the halfway point in that game. He was great.”
Bjork said Houser has “done just an amazing job.”
“You’ve got to really tip your hat to that guy,” he said. “He came in here and did his job so well and we’re all so proud of him and excited for him. … He’s got such a positive energy about himself. It’s extremely impressive to be a goalie and play back-to-back and all the way with a ton of shots against and take it all the way to the shootout. (To) stop three straight is just an amazing feat by any goalie.”
It was an amazing feat by the Sabres to erase deficits back-to-back nights and defeat the Islanders, whose rigid structure makes them one of the NHL’s heavyweights.
“We did a good job bringing energy,” Bjork said. “Both games we didn’t start the way we wanted exactly, especially tonight, I thought, but we responded well and competed for 60 minutes. I think that was extremely important. With the young legs and young bodies we have on this team, we have the ability to stay energized the whole game and start making plays and breaking teams down. That was our focus.”
The Sabres, who have today off, close the season with road games Thursday and Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Houser could start both games if goalie Linus Ullmark hasn’t recovered from his lower-body injury.
Pittsburgh, coincidentally, is Houser’s hometown. PPG Paints Arena is hosting fans, so he will have to find some tickets.
“I’ve got to get a final number for the count but that’ll be really cool,” Houser said. “I’m not sure the schedule, who’s playing or what, but if I’m in there that’ll be really cool, having my parents there to see me play in the NHL. That will be really fun.”