The celebratory shouts from the Buffalo Sabres’ bench could be heard in an eerily quiet KeyBank Center.
Rasmus Asplund had just scored on a loose puck to tie the score in the third period against the New York Islanders, a team the Sabres had yet to beat in six meetings during this shortened season.
Playing in his first game at any level since March 7, 2020, Houser stopped all 15 shots he faced in the third period, standing tall to help the Sabres rally from a two-goal deficit to defeat the New York Islanders 4-2.
At the other end of the ice was Michael Houser, a 28-year-old rookie making his NHL debut after having played only two games above the ECHL since 2015-16. Houser turned his back to the play and got ready to try to help the Sabres spoil the Islanders’ desperate push for two points.
His teammates ensured he would walk away with a win, rallying from a two-goal deficit to defeat the Islanders 4-2 on Monday. Sam Reinhart’s goal with 4:04 remaining in regulation stood as the game-winner.
The Sabres (14-32-17) lost seven of their previous nine games and avoided clinching the NHL's worst record, which would ensure that they have the best odds of selecting first overall in the 2021 draft.
Although Ullmark felt well enough to take shots from teammates and received medical clearance to rejoin the team, there's no guarantee he'll be able to play this week.
Houser, who was called on to start with Dustin Tokarski and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen unavailable, made 34 saves.
Tage Thompson cut the deficit to 2-1 with his power-play shot in the second period to snap the Sabres’ skid on the man advantage. Asplund tied the score with 8:35 remaining on a loose puck in front of the net. Reinhart then tipped a point shot by Rasmus Ristolainen in for the 3-2 lead, and he added his second of the game on an empty-netter for his 25th of the season, which matches his previous career high.
Adam Pelech and Oliver Walstrom scored for the Islanders (31-16-5), who had shutouts in each of their previous two games and have clinched one of four playoff spots in the East Division. New York entered Monday with a 15-0-1 record when leading at the second intermission.
On an island: The Sabres did little to help Houser in the first period. While Granato had his players tighten their coverage in the defensive zone, it allowed the Islanders too much time to move the puck and find open lanes for shots.
Opening salvo: The Islanders took a 1-0 lead when Pelech’s shot from near the half wall deflected off Sabres defenseman Henri Jokiharju’s stick and past Houser, who was in the middle of gliding to his left when the puck changed directions.
As the Buffalo Sabres’ 10th consecutive non-playoff season draws to a close, General Manager Kevyn Adams soon will decide which direction to take at head coach.
The Sabres have allowed the first goal in eight consecutive games. Entering Monday, the Islanders were 22-1-3 when scoring first.
More issues: Buffalo had two shots on goal during a pair of power plays in the first period. New York, meanwhile, had one shot during that four-minute span.
Close call: It appeared that the Islanders took a 2-0 lead when Ryan Pulock’s shot from near the blue line was tipped by Mathew Barzal. However, the goal was overturned after a coach’s challenge by Granato because officials determined that Casey Cizikas’ contact with Houser prevented the Sabres' goalie from making the save.
Response: The Sabres had six consecutive shots on goal during a stretch in the second period, including one by Casey Mittelstadt that went off goalie Semyon Varlamov’s glove during a 2-on-1 rush.
Another one: Wahlstrom tipped a Pelech shot from the point between Houser’s legs for a 2-0 Islanders lead at 10:42 into the second period.
When you covered the Sabres in those post-lockout years, Miller's locker was the place to be most days, Mike Harrington says.
Breaking through: Varlamov’s shutout streak ended at 248 minutes, with Thompson scoring at 14:04 into the second period on a power-play shot from the right-wing circle, cutting the Sabres’ deficit to 2-1. Asplund tied the score in the third period after Sam Reinhart extended his arm to poke the puck to the slot.
Roster moves: Ahead of puck drop Monday, the Sabres assigned forwards C.J. Smith and Steven Fogarty from Rochester to the taxi squad. Stefanos Lekkas, a 25-year-old goalie, served as Buffalo’s back up after joining the team on a professional tryout. Lekkas had an .863 save percentage in seven games with the Amerks.
Defensemen Colin Miller and Matt Irwin were healthy scratches for Buffalo.
Next: The Sabres are scheduled to host the Islanders for the final game of their season series Tuesday night at 7.