The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, May 04, 2021 1:00 am

Buffalo 4 New York 2

Ex-K's goalie Houser wins in his NHL debut

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

Goaltender Michael Houser banged both posts with his stick, a ritual he performs when completing a period without allowing a goal. Houser, the former Komets goalie, was sparkling in the third period Monday night, stopping all 15 shots to give him a total of 34 saves as the NHL-worst Buffalo Sabres defeated the playoff-bound New York Islanders 4-2 in Buffalo, New York.

For Houser, who led the Komets to overtime of Game 7 of the Western Conference finals in 2018, it was the end of a wild Monday. He had never played in an NHL game before, hadn't played in any game in 14 months (he was on the Sabres' taxi squad), yet he led Buffalo back from a two-goal deficit.

Rasmus Asplund scored in the third period and Sam Reinhart netted two.

“It's so exciting. I've worked for this my whole life for this to happen,” Houser said. “Just to play a game here, it's really special. But to win, winning is always the goal. That's why we play is to win the game. I'm happy that we were able to do that.”

As an added bit of local intrigue, Stefanos Lekkas, a rookie who began this season with the Komets, was called in to be Houser's backup. Lekkas had been with Rochester of the American Hockey League, going 1-5-1 with a 4.32 goals-against average and a .863 save percentage in seven games.

Houser, 28, was 28-11-4 with a 2.73 goals-against average, a .909 save percentage and two shutouts for Fort Wayne in 2017-18, then in the playoffs he was 10-7 with a 2.44 GAA and a .914 SP.

He spent the last two seasons with the ECHL's Cincinnati Cyclones. He is the sixth goalie used by the injury-riddled Sabres, joining Linus Ullmark, Dustin Tokarski, Carter Hutton, Jonas Johansson and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.

“Anytime you're in the East Coast League, it seems like it's quite a jump to get (to the NHL). But being a goalie, the position's a little different thing,” Houser said. “You never wish for injuries, but a couple injuries here and there and all of a sudden you're either starting in the American League or called up to the NHL.

“I know it's so cliché, but they always tell you to stay ready, and I've taken that to heart the last few years, mostly for a chance to play for (Rochester) and take that net if I ever had the chance to do that. This being a weird year, I got to skip that stuff and got this game.”

Semyon Varlamov stopped 36 shots for the Islanders.

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