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Sabres game day: Brett Murray to make NHL debut in Pittsburgh

Sabres game day: Brett Murray to make NHL debut in Pittsburgh

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Brett Murray leads the Rochester Americans in points this season.

Matchup: Buffalo Sabres (15-32-7) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (35-16-3)

Where: PPG Paints Arena

When: 7 p.m.

TV: MSG 

Radio: WGR 550

PITTSBURGH – Brett Murray first realized his National Hockey League dream would become a reality when the 22-year-old winger arrived at a pregame meeting with the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday morning.

That’s when Murray saw his name listed on the Sabres’ line chart for their first of two games in Pittsburgh against the Penguins.

“I’m at a loss for words,” Murray beamed. “It’s honestly something that you work for, every player has worked for their entire life. To finally see your name on a line chart in the NHL is just one of the coolest things in the world.”

Listed at 6-foot-5, 228 pounds, Murray is a power forward with skill. He was tied for the Rochester Americans team lead with eight goals and his 19 points in 23 games were the most among all Amerks. Murray took line rushes at the morning skate with Riley Sheahan and Drake Caggiula.

Murray will be the seventh Sabres player to make their NHL debut this season, joining Michael Houser, Dylan Cozens, Arttu Ruotsalainen, Mattias Samuelsson, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Jacob Bryson. This is an opportunity for Murray to show Sabres brass that he could be an option for the bottom six next season, as his style of play is unlike anyone else’s on the roster.

In addition to disrupting play in front of the other team’s net, Murray can score. He is two years removed from totaling 41 goals for the United States Hockey League’s Youngstown Phantoms.

“I’m a bigger player, that means using my size to create space, not only for myself, but for my linemates down low,” said Murray. “Just reliable at both ends of the ice, getting to the front of the net and, again, using my size just to, not create chaos, but create turnovers and get the puck back to our stick and hopefully to the back of the net.”

Murray turned pro earlier than expected, bypassing college hockey to sign an AHL contract with the Amerks for the 2019-20 season. He set out to prove he could thrive as a power forward and gradually earned more responsibility in Rochester.

Murray's 24 points, including nine goals, in 55 games earned him an NHL contract last offseason. He's now a prospect on the rise.

"Everyone’s got a different path in order to get there," said Murray. "Mine might be a little different than the guy sitting next to me. So, yeah, it was different, but I think I came to the rink every day wanting to compete and wanting to move up, wanting to make it to where I am today. It was a weird journey, but I’m here now and now my goal is to stay here."

Lineup: Center Cody Eakin and defenseman Will Borgen will be scratched, according to interim coach Don Granato. Eakin is dealing with soreness after playing Tuesday against the Islanders, while Borgen is “probable” to return to the lineup for the season finale Saturday.

Granato is sticking with the top line he used Tuesday: Sam Reinhart, Anders Bjork and Victor Olofsson. Jeff Skinner, meanwhile, is expected to play with Dylan Cozens and Arttu Ruotsalainen.

Here’s how the Sabres lined up at the morning skate:

The Penguins are still without Brandon Tanev, but they are expected to use the following lineup tonight:

Homecoming: Michael Houser’s unprecedented run in Buffalo will add another emotional chapter. The 28-year-old goalie grew up in Wexford, a suburb 20 minutes north of downtown Pittsburgh. His family will be able to attend his third NHL game after they watched on TV as he won each of his first two NHL starts, the second of which included 45 saves and perfection in a shootout.

Houser has a .940 save percentage, stopping 79 of 84 shots.

“Just want to go out there, I don’t want to be thinking too much about who’s on the ice,” said Houser. “I just want to read the play and let my instincts take over. I’ve felt pretty good in the last two so I’m just going to try to carry that into tonight. Once you get back into the game rhythm and see the game plays and the rushes coming at you, it feels normal. No more ‘haven’t played in a while’ excuses now; it’s feeling the rhythm and ready to go.”

The Penguins, meanwhile, will turn to Tristan Jarry, who has a .917 save percentage while going 7-1 in his last nine appearances.

Reinhart’s run: Sam Reinhart has eight goals in his last seven games and is responsible for six of the Sabres’ nine multigoal performances this season. He has 14 points, including 11 goals, in his last 12 games. His 11 goals since April 15 lead the NHL, and his 25 goals in 50 games matched his previous career high, which was set in 82 games in 2017-18.

Sid’s dominance: Penguins center Sidney Crosby has at least one point in 42 of his 48 career games against the Sabres. His 1.48 career points per game against Buffalo is the sixth-highest mark by any player with at least 15 games versus the Sabres, trailing only Mario Lemieux (1.75), Steve Yzerman (1.63), Pavel Bure (1.59), Bobby Orr (1.52) and Wayne Gretzky (1.51).

Special teams: The Penguins’ power play ranks second in the NHL since March 1, converting at a 29.2% clip. Buffalo is amid a 1-for-8 skid on the power play and its penalty kill went 2-for-2 in the two-game series against the Islanders.

Standings watch: The Penguins are tied with the Capitals for first place in the East Division, but Pittsburgh is the only playoff team in the division with just two games remaining.

The Sabres, meanwhile, will clinch last place in the NHL, and the best odds to draft first overall, if they are unable to win their final two games, including one in regulation, and Anaheim does not lose both of its final games in regulation.

“They’re young,” Penguins winger Zach Aston-Reese said of the Sabres. “They have a lot of skill. They’re a good team and they have nothing to lose. Those are the most dangerous teams to play, always. It’s going to be important that we play the right way. We can’t get into a track meet. We can’t try trading chances.”

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News Sports Reporter

I've covered the Sabres and National Hockey League for The Buffalo News since November 2018. My previous work included coverage of the Pittsburgh Pirates and University of Pittsburgh athletics for DKPittsburghSports.com.

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