Carter Nets 4 Goals for Pens
PITTSBURGH (AP) — In the final days of a 16th season that came in the form of a 56-game sprint and included a cross-country trade, Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jeff Carter acknowledges his legs aren’t exactly in top form.
Funny, they sure looked fresh Thursday night against Buffalo, when the 36-year-old did something for the first time since, well, even he can’t remember.
Carter collected the first four-goal game of his career in an 8-4 victory over the Sabres, netting three in the first 25 minutes then finishing it off with a pretty backhander in the third period as the Penguins moved back into first place in the crowded East Division.
“I don’t know what happened out there, to be honest with you,” Carter said. “The puck was following me all night.”
And then finding its way to the net. Carter’s four-goal night gave him eight in 13 games since joining the Penguins last month, matching the total he had in 40 games with Los Angeles before being shipped east at the trade deadline.
The two-time Stanley Cup champion adds depth and a veteran presence in the bottom six.
Perhaps just as importantly, his “shoot first” mentality is something the Penguins — who can sometimes frustrate coach Mike Sullivan by searching for the pretty play instead of the prudent — desperately need.
“He’s a guy with a lot of speed, really intelligent with the puck and he’s got the IQ to find the areas on the ice to score goals,” Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang said. “It’s good to have him on our side.”
The four-goal performance was the first by a Penguin since Chris Kunitz did it in a win over Washington on Feb. 3, 2013.
Jared McCann had a goal and two assists for Pittsburgh. Brian Dumoulin, Sidney Crosby and Kasperi Kapanen also scored for the Penguins.
Tristan Jarry overcame a sloppy start to finish with 19 saves as Pittsburgh moved two points ahead of Washington for the top spot in the East. The Capitals, however, have three games remaining. The Penguins have just one, their regular-season finale on Saturday against the Sabres.
Pittsburgh would at least like to finish with the second seed, assuring itself of home-ice in the opening round. The Penguins have been dominant at PPG Paints Arena this season. Pittsburgh’s 21 home victories are tied with Tampa Bay for tops in the league.
Drake Caggiula scored twice for Buffalo, but goaltender Michael Houser’s homecoming ended with a loss to the team he rooted for while growing up in the northern Pittsburgh suburbs.
The 28-year-old spent nearly a decade before bouncing around the minors before finally reaching the NHL earlier this week. He dazzled in a pair of wins over the New York Islanders to earn a third consecutive start. Playing in front of more than 20 friends and family, Houser stopped 26 shots but couldn’t keep the NHL’s highest-scoring team under wraps.
“We owe (Houser) big time,” Caggiula said. “Last couple games, he’s been a stone wall back there for us. It’s been a lot of fun playing for him. We kind of laid an egg tonight.”
Tage Thompson and Jeff Skinner also scored for Buffalo, but the Sabres — who began the season hoping to end a nine-year playoff drought — assured themselves of finishing with the worst record in the 30-team NHL for the fourth time since 2013-14.
The Penguins by contrast have the longest active playoff streak (15 years) in major North American professional sports. Yet just reaching the postseason isn’t enough, one of the reasons they brought in Carter last month.
Carter has wasted little time developing chemistry with McCann and the two certainly looked comfortable with each other as McCann slid a cross-ice pass to Carter that Carter zipped into the net 9:57 into the first to tie the score. Carter needed less than two minutes to put the Penguins in front, taking a nice drop pass from Jason Zucker for a power-play goal. He completed a natural hat trick with a rebound by Houser 4:36 into the second.
The Sabres kept pace for a little while. Caggiula’s second of the game tied it at 3 just 37 seconds after Zucker’s third but the Penguins simply kept coming.
Pittsburgh then reeled off four straight — including Carter’s backhand flip — to take control. Asked by Sullivan in the dressing room afterward if he could ever remember scoring four goals in a game, Carter shook his head.
“I’ve had a few hat tricks before,” Carter said. “When you get three, you hopefully get four. But I had quite a bit of time left after the third one. So I was definitely pushing for it for sure.”
Buffalo and Pittsburgh wrap up their respective regular seasons with their eighth and final meeting. The Penguins are 6-1 against the Sabres.
MAPLE LEAFS 5, CANADIENS 2
TORONTO (AP) — Auston Matthews scored his NHL-leading 40th goal of the season to help Toronto beat Montreal.
Mitch Marner and John Tavares each had a goal and an assist, Alex Galchenyuk and Pierre Engvall also scored and Jack Campbell made 20 saves. Campbell improved to 16-2-2, giving him the most wins by Toronto goalie through 20 games in a season.
Cole Caufield and Artturi Lehkonen scored for Montreal. Cayden Primeau allowed four goals on 15 shots in the opening 20 minutes before being replaced by Jake Allen to start the second. Allen made 19 saves.
The Maple Leafs improved to 6-2-1 against the Canadiens. The teams will conclude the two-game set and season series Saturday night in Toronto.
Matthews has scored 40 times in 49 games, and has found the back of the net in five straight contests. He also has a five-game goal streak against Montreal. Only one player in Maple Leafs history has reached 40 goals in fewer games, with Frank Mahovlich hitting the mark in 48 games in 1960-61.
BRUINS 4, RANGERS 0
BOSTON (AP) — Patrice Bergeron scored in his fourth straight game, Jeremy Swayman needed to stop only 15 shots for his second career shutout and Boston beat New York.
Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo also scored and Brad Marchand and David Krejci had two assists apiece to help the Bruins win for the fifth time in six games. The teams will meet again on Saturday in Boston.
The Rangers, in the midst of a tumultuous week that included the firing of the club’s president and general manager, were listless from the start and lost their fifth straight. New York had just four shots on goal in the first period and three in the second.
DEVILS 2, ISLANDERS 1
UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) — Michael McLeod scored the tiebreaking goal late in the second period, Mackenzie Blackwood stopped 32 shots and New Jersey beat playoff-bound New York for its fifth win in six games.
Pavel Zacha also scored for the Devils. They beat the Islanders for just the second time in seven meetings this season.
Anthony Beauvillier scored on a fortunate deflection for the Islanders.
The teams will meet again Saturday night at the Nassau Coliseum to conclude their season series.
BLACKHAWKS 2, HURRICANES 1, OT
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Alex DeBrincat beat Petr Mrazek at 2:02 of overtime and Chicago beat NHL-leading Carolina to salvage the final game of a three-game set.
Collin Delia made 36 saves for the Blackhawks. They were eliminated from postseason contention Monday and gave up 11 goals in the first two losses to the Hurricanes.
Riley Stillman’ scored his first NHL goal for Chicago. Martin Necas scored a short-handed goal for the Hurricanes.