PITTSBURGH – Linus Ullmark might have played his last game with the Buffalo Sabres.
Ullmark, a 27-year-old pending unrestricted free agent, did not recover from a lower-body injury in time to be in goal for the Sabres in their season finale Saturday against the Penguins, interim coach Don Granato told reporters.
Ullmark returned to team practices Monday for the first time since suffering the ailment during the first period of a game April 13 in Boston. This gave him time to skate with teammates four times this week, including the final practice Friday at the Penguins' UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry Township, Pa.
However, the Sabres allowed Ullmark to decide if he was comfortable enough to return to the lineup. With Ullmark unavailable, Michael Houser is expected to receive a fourth consecutive start and Stefanos Lekkas will back up.
Houser, 28, won each of his first two career NHL starts, stopping 79 of 84 shots in home victories over the New York Islanders. His teammates provided little support Thursday night in Pittsburgh, as Houser faced 11 high-danger scoring chances in the final two periods of an 8-4 loss.
This ends another encouraging season for Ullmark, who finished with a .917 save percentage in 20 games. Drafted in the sixth round by Buffalo in 2012, Ullmark had a .937 save percentage at 5-on-5, which ranks fifth among all goalies to appear in at least 20 games this season.
This is as uncertain as the Sabres' goaltending situation has been since former General Manager Jason Botterill opted to not extend a qualifying offer to pending restricted free agent Robin Lehner in June 2018.
Ullmark has been a solid option when healthy the past two seasons, totaling a .916 save percentage. But he has missed approximately 28 games with unrelated lower-body injuries during that span.
General Manager Kevyn Adams chose to not trade Ullmark ahead of the April 12 deadline, as the two sides planned to continue contract talks. Ullmark was injured the following game, placing further stress on the Sabres' goaltending depth.
Carter Hutton, also a pending unrestricted free agent, was ruled out for the season with a lower-body injury suffered March 22. Dustin Tokarski, a 31-year-old American Hockey League veteran signed to give Buffalo a goalie to expose in the Seattle expansion draft, provided some consistency in net until a family emergency forced him to leave the team early this week.
Tokarski went 2-8-2 with a .904 save percentage in 13 appearances. He was named First Star of the Week by the NHL after compiling a .934 save percentage and 2-1-1 record from April 13-18, including victories over Washington and Pittsburgh.
An accomplished goalie in the American Hockey League, Tokarski had not won an NHL game since Dec. 12, 2015.
Jonas Johansson, a third-round draft pick in 2014, was traded to Colorado in March.
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, a 22-year-old top prospect, showed he might be closer to NHL-ready than initially expected. A second-round draft choice in 2017, Luukkonen won his NHL debut by making 36 saves in a 6-4 win over Boston on April 23. He had a .906 save percentage in four games before suffering an ankle injury in the final moments of the second period in Boston on May 1.
Luukkonen and Tokarski are the only goalies under contract with the Sabres next season.
Vote of distinction
Following a 40-minute practice Friday in Pittsburgh, Granato announced to the team that forward Sam Reinhart was voted as the recipient of the inaugural Rick Martin Award, presented to the player fans believe best demonstrates on-ice excellence, resiliency and dedication to the community.
Amid his sixth season in Buffalo, Reinhart leads the Sabres with 25 goals and 40 points in 53 games. Drafted second overall in 2014, Reinhart has 134 goals during his NHL career.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan announced Friday that Maxime Lagace, a 28-year-old with only 17 games of NHL experience, will start in goal against the Sabres on Saturday.