The Buffalo Sabres provided the perfect competition for a Pittsburgh Penguins team gearing the end of the regular season and the nebulous start of the 2021 NHL playoffs. Buffalo was spirited, but the Penguins were too deep, including third-line center Jeff Carter, who netted a hat trick + 1 in the Penguins 8-4 win at PPG Paints Arena Thursday.
According to Penguins historian Bob Grove, Carter’s four-goal game was the first for a Penguins player in Pittsburgh since–wait for it–Jaromir Jagr on Oct. 14, 2000.
Carter (13, 14, 15, 16) tallied his first goal midway through the first period, but no one knew until replay officials made the call while play continued. Buffalo pinched, and Penguins winger Freddy Gaudreau sprang Jared McCann and Carter on a two-one-one. McCann chipped his pass over a defender, and Carter’s (13) wrister appeared to settle on the goal line behind goalie Michael Houser until Rasmus Ristolainen appeared to clear the danger.
However, the puck did eek across the line. The goal counted, and over one minute was added to the clock.
“I don’t know what happened out there, to be honest with you. The puck, it was following me all night,” Carter said. “Really (it followed) all three of us. I was lucky to get that first one to go in and it just kind of snowballed from there.”
Just 1:42 later, Carter and the Penguins PP2 struck. Jason Zucker’s quick pass to Carter (14) in the slot was immediately in the back of the net. 2-1.
“Offensively, we really have a lot of freedom to kind of go and I think with the skill that we have on this team, that’s a real good thing,” Carter said. “So. I think it’s showing now and our line is starting to build some chemistry and get things going in the right direction.”
Buffalo did crack the scoreboard first. The Penguins were loose in the first five minutes, and former prized prospect turned journeyman Drake Caggiula (2) took advantage with an open wrister from the RW circle past Tristan Jarry.
Then the flood of offense followed. The Penguins and Buffalo scored five goals in the first eight minutes of the second period, and Carter’s potential natural hat trick was interrupted only by a goal by Tage Thompson.
Thompson (8) got behind the Penguins defense and Jake Guentzel on a three-on-two and pushed it past Jarry. 2-2.
Just over one minute later, Carter brought a rain of hats with his seventh goal in 13 games as a Penguin. Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson deftly stickhandled around a couple of defenders and charged the net. Carter (15) cleaned up the rebound a few dozen hats from the nearly 5,000 fans made it to the ice. 3-2.
“I’ve had a few hat tricks before When you get three, hopefully, you get four,” Carter chuckled. “But you had quite a bit of time left after the third one. So, I was pushing for it for sure.”
However, the firewagon was just gassing up. The teams scored three more goals in the next two minutes.
Caggiula (3) beat Evgeni Malkin in the slot and beat Jarry from about 15 feet away. 3-3.
Sidney Crosby won an offensive zone faceoff. From the point, Brian Dumoulin (4) blasted it past Houser 4-3.
Jared McCann provided the capper to the offensive explosion seven minutes into the second period. Gaudreau created a turnover, then dropped a pass to McCann in the slot. McCann (14) whistled a short-side wrister past Houser. 5-3.
The Penguins outshot the Sabres 13-6 in the second period, but Buffalo couldn’t hit water from a boat on Thursday. Shot attempts were close to equal until the last 10 minutes of the second period when the Penguins effectively broke Buffalo.
Carter ended the competitiveness early in the third period. Jared McCann tapped the puck to Carter, who peeled off the end wall into the low slot. Carter’s spinning backhand (16) went top-shelf. 6-3.
Midway through the third period, Sidney Crosby (24), who must have felt left out, deflected Kris Letang’s point shot. 7-3. It was Crosby’s fourth goal in three games.
Just to make sure the Penguins didn’t get too comfortable, the jobber, er Buffalo, followed Crosby’s tally with a power-play goal shortly afterward. Jeff Skinner (7) was uncovered on the doorstep. Jarry didn’t have a chance on the turning shot.
Al Snow would have been proud (1990s wrestling reference).
Later in the third period, Evgeni Malkin fed Kasperi Kapanen on the rush for No. 8. It was Kapanen’s 11th goal this season.
Jarry’s stats look much worse than the game. Jarry stopped 19 of 23 shots. Youngstown-born and Pittsburgh area youth hockey player Michael Houser had a rough night at the office. Houser, 28, who made his NHL debut this week, made 26 saves on 34 shots.
PHN’s Pittsburgh Penguins 3 Stars:
- Jared McCann
The Penguins forward spurred some of Carter’s offensive explosion with puck pressure and slick passes. McCann had three points (1g, 2a) and played fast with the puck through the end of the game.
- Frederick Gaudreau
Three assists. This guy began the season in the minors? He created turnovers and did the little things well. He earned those apples.
“I mean, there’s nothing else to say, I guess it’s just it just feels good,” Gaudreau said. “It’s been a long way back to the NHL. To have nights like that for sure, it feels good.”
- Jeff Carter
Four goals for the Penguins trade deadline acquisition. He looks 10 years younger. He couldn’t miss. He had his wheels and hands in sync. He and his linemates found the soft spots in Buffalo’s zone. It was Carter’s first four-goal game.