He went back to the white pads.
Earlier this season, Marc-Andre Fleury caused quite a stir when he brought back his nuclear haz-mat suit yellow pads in conjunction with the Penguins' usage of an old school third jersey which they wore tonight. The pads matched the shade of Pittsburgh Gold yellow on the jersey and looked just brilliant.
When asked why he went back to the yellow pads in October, Fleury simply explained that he wanted to "switch it up." When asked if he would ever wear them in a playoff game, he bluntly said, "No, no."
After tonight's game, Fleury, sitting in his stall with those white pads still strapped to his legs, was reminded of that conversation about his pads nearly half a year ago .
He responded, "Yeah, it was a playoff game."
Fleury, the team's MVP in every sense of the term, directed the Penguins back to the real playoffs with a 2-0 win against the Sabres.
The Penguins didn't absolutely need this game simply on the basis of getting into the postseason. They need this game in order to get some semblance of confidence back. They need to remember what it was like to win a game, even if it was against the NHL's worst team.
A reporter said to Fleury, "You looked relieved."
Fleury responded, "Ohhhhh.... You think? Geez."
He then noted that the playoffs were usually a pretty secure thing for the Penguins. He said, "I think other than my first couple of years, we've always been in there and never cut it so close. Nothing crazy. It was good though. I think it got us to play intense games, close games."
The Penguins will return to the postseason for the ninth consecutive time. They will face the Rangers in the first round. The matchup certainly appears to be one-sided as the Rangers thumped the Penguins during most the regular season. But let's focus on that another day. For one night at least, the news is good for the Penguins.
This felt like a playoff game from the get go. Game 82 of the regular season between one team mired in a five-game losing streak and another team which is guaranteed one of the top pick sin the NHL draft felt like Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Even with no score in the first period, it felt tense. Every shot made you hold your breath.
The second period was similar but not to the same degree. Both teams seemed to sit back a little and wait for the other to make a mistake.
The Penguins finally broke through at 14:23 of the second period. Blake Comeau chipped a puck from the right wing into the Buffalo end boards. Brandon Sutter beat Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen to the puck, established control, curled around to the right circle and into the slot where he lifted a wrister by the blocker of goaltender Anders Lindback. It was Sutter's 20th goal of the season and it was easily his most important.
Beau Bennett, who had returned to the ice after a big hit into the boards a few minutes earlier, made a nice play by driving to the net and tangling up Sabres defenseman Andrej Meszaros just enough to give Sutter space to shoot.
The Penguins kept things safe the rest of the way and rarely let the Sabres establish anything in the way of puck possession outside of a few sporadic careless plays with the puck.
They secured the win at 8:26 of the third period. Patric Hornqvist, who has been one of this team's most valuable players during this dreadful stretch of play, stole a puck on the left wing of the Sabres' zone and chipped a pass to Daniel Winnik to the right of the net. Instead of just chucking a shot into Lindback, Winnik sent a subtle pass to Sutter low to the left of the cage. Sutter beat Sabres right winger Brian Gionta. It was a pretty passing play which the Penguins haven't been able to connect on nearly enough this season.
The Penguins ate the clock as much as they could down the stretch in order to secure the victory.
The secondary scoring was key, especially for Sutter. So many of his goals this season just didn't seem to have much weight with regards to the outcome of a game. They were "Robert Lang" goals. In the past two seasons, Sutter had a knack for scoring big goals but this season, they were kind of hollow.
-Tonight, his goals meant everything to this team. His goals put them into the playoffs.
-Sidney Crosby didn't record a point but he did everything he could to drag this team to a win. He was simply furious on the boards and in one-on-one battles, especially against Sabre defenseman Zach Bogosian.
-Maybe it was simply a matter of playing a bad team like the Sabres, but the Penguins' defensemen did not look nearly as overwhelmed tonight as they did against the Islanders Friday. They got the puck up ice to the forwards and got off the ice on short shifts. There were relatively few prolonged shifts in the defensive zone unlike the night before. The Penguins' defensemen had a much easier job tonight and it showed in their execution.
-The fact that there were no power plays at all in this game probably helped the Penguins and their defensemen. Without any defensemen being on the ice for prolonged shifts in the defensive or offensive zones, it really allowed the Penguins to balance their shift lengths.
-This game was not without warts. The Penguins were more than careless on a few occasions with the puck. Thankfully for them, they were playing the Sabres who simply don't have the talent to convert those turnovers. If this game was against a team like the Rangers ... heck, the Hurricanes, it might have been uglier for the Penguins.
-Blake Comeau rebounded a bit with a solid game. He had a simple dump in to set up Sutter's goal and even had one nice scoring chance after moving out from behind the net to the left circle.
-The experiment with Winnik on the first line may have hit its expiration date. He had a few reasonably efficient games on Crosby's wing but those appear to be a thing of the past. He kept forcing passes to Crosby all over the ice and turned the puck over a few times.
-Chris Kunitz just looks spent. We don't know what to say about him at this point. With a roster this limited, they really have no choice but to keep him in the role he's in.
-Kunitz's line with Evgeni Malkin and David Perron was mostly inert. It got more than a few shots on net but we can't say a ton of them were of high quality.
-Malkin continues to look like he's laboring through some ailment. He gave an honest thorough effort but something just looks off.
-Perron was shaken up for a bit in the second period after he tried to break up a shot attempt near the Penguins' net and slammed his head off the end boards. Athletic trainer Chris Stewart attended to him but he never left the game.
-Craig Adams was in the lineup but did not record a shift.
-We did not talk to Ben Lovejoy after the game but the look of relief on his face could have lit up a coal mine. After several rough games for him individually, he played a pretty safe, reliable game.
-Where is this team without Cole? Could you imagine if Robert Bortuzzo was being forced to play north of 20 minutes a game? Cole logged 27:20: of ice time and was a rock. He has been so reliable since joining the team.
-With few roster limitations in the postseason, the Penguins will be able to recall some healthy bodies, particularly on defense. The notion of being allowed to actually dress more than five defensemen brought a smile to Cole's face. Understated, he noted, "It will be nice to dial back the minutes."
-During the third period, the Sabres held a fan lottery to give a way a car. Team President Ted Black drew the number. On a microphone, he joked, This will be the second most important lottery" in reference to next week's draft lottery.
-The Penguins led in shots on net, 38-28.
-The Penguins led in attempted shots, 67-44.
-Malkin led with six shots.
-Meszaros, defenseman Tyson Strachan and left winger Marcus Foligno each led the Sabres with four shots.
-Cole led the game with 27:20 of ice time.
-Ristolainen led the Sabres with 25:00.
-The Penguins controlled faceoffs, 45-25 (64 percent).
-Malkin was 16 for 24 (67 percent)
-Left winger Matt Ellis was 6 for 9 (67 percent).
-Cole and Ellis each led the game with three shots each.
Ian Cole talked about making the playoffs:
"As a team, we expected to go to the playoffs. Our goal was to win the Stanley Cup without a doubt. Was it stressful when we kept losing games and taking it down to the wire? Yeah, it was stressful without a doubt. But I think we handled it really well. We handled the pressure well. We went out in a business-like manner and really were able to get the job down when it counted."
Head coach Mike Johnston lauded Bennett after the game:
"Bennett's game keeps getting better and better. You're see him starting to play with confidence now where probably three weeks ago, maybe four weeks ago, he didn't have that type of confidence. But you get a guy with an offensive player like Beau Bennett who gets some confidence, it can give a line some jump."
-Crosby finished third in the scoring race with 84 points. Stars center Jamie Benn claimed it with 86 points. Islanders center John Tavares was second with 86.
-Fleury led the NHL with 10 shutouts. It's the first time a Penguins goaltender led the league in shutouts.
-Sutter's 21 goals tied a career high.
-Nick Spaling and Rob Scuderi were the only Penguins players who appeared in all 82 games.
-Some sights The ice:
-Fans entering the barn:
-Rick Martin had a fan here:
-Brett Hull is still "popular" here:
-There are old seats from the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium in the main concourse here:
-The "French Connection" statue is marvelous:
(Where are all the Islanders defensemen?)
-This is awesome. A Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel combo jersey:
-McDavid already has fans here young and old alike:
-There were plenty of Penguins fans (and one Michael Leighton fan) on hand for warmups:
-Crosby and Pascal Dupuis:
-Christian Ehrhoff still has a fan here:
-A rare Daniel Alfredsson Senators/Crosby Team Canada:
-The always rare Alexander Mogilny Sabres/Tony Hrkac Houston Aeros duo:
-Jersey of the Night: Former Sabres/Penguins defenseman Jason Woolley: