If the teary-eyed hugs with his two sons and wife at the Zamboni entrance weren’t hints enough, Sabres goalie Craig Anderson made it official following a 4-3 overtime win against Ottawa on Thursday night. He’s retiring after a 20-year career.
“This is it,” Anderson said after a 30-save performance in Buffalo’s home finale in which he was mobbed by teammates and celebrated in front of a crowd chanting, “Andy! Andy! Andy!” after Casey Mittelstadt scored 1:18 into the extra frame.
“I think I left it all out there. At the end of the day, I did everything I possibly could to make sure that I was competitive and gave the team a chance to win,” Anderson added. “You’ve got to be honest with yourself. And that’s just the way this game goes, Father Time always catches up to you.”
The 41-year-old from Park Ridge, Illinois – who won’t be suiting up in Buffalo’s season finale at Columbus on Friday – closes his career at 319-275-71. He ranks fifth among American-born goalies in wins and games played, and third with 43 shutouts, one behind Ryan Miller.
“It was emotional. Yeah, I mean, you don’t get to write your own ending very often, especially in this sport,” Sabres captain Kyle Okposo said. “We wanted that one for him. Just an incredible scene.”
Tage Thompson scored his team-leading 47th goal, while Henri Jokiharju and Victor Olofsson also scored for Buffalo in a game between Atlantic Division rivals eliminated from playoff contention. By forcing overtime in rallying from a 3-2 deficit, the Sabres assured themselves of finishing 10th in the Eastern Conference standings.
Though extending their NHL-record playoff drought to 12 seasons following a 6-2 loss at New Jersey on Tuesday, the Sabres have 89 points to match their most since 2011-12, and with one game remaining. Buffalo’s 41 wins are also the most since winning 43 in 2010-11.
Claude Giroux achieved a single-season career-best by scoring his 35th goal, while playing in his 1,100th career game, and three days after reaching the 1,000-point plateau. Tim Stutzle had a goal and assist, and Dylan Gambrell also scored for the Senators, who closed their season with a 39-35-8 record.
Rookie Mads Sogaard stopped 32 shots for Ottawa.
The Senators’ 39 wins and 86 points are their most since 2016-17, the last time they made the playoffs.
“It’s not the position we want to be in. We believe in each other and we think we’re a playoff team. But it’s a bad feeling right now, knowing that we were pretty close,” Giroux said. “Personally I’m not ecstatic with the position that we are right now, but saying that, we still did a lot of good things and we’re going to build on this.”
Mittelstadt scored by accepting Rasmus Dahlin’s pass along the right boards, cutting into the circle and snapping a shot over Sogaard’s right shoulder.
The Sabres bench erupted with players racing down the ice to mob Anderson in his crease. Senators players then waited near their bench to congratulate Anderson, who spent 10 season playing for Ottawa. Among the Senators were two of Anderson’s former teammates Brady Tkachuk and Drake Batherson.
“It’s an honour for me to to be a part of their careers, too,” Anderson said. “I didn’t know I had that much influence on those guys. But to this day, they’re still thankful for me being there and being part of their entry into the league.”
Anderson was voted as the Professional Hockey Writer’s Association Bill Masterton Trophy winner for exemplifying the qualities of perseverance and dedication to hockey in 2017, when he left the Senators in the middle of the season to help his wife, Nicholle, to successfully beat cancer. He was also drafted twice, the first time in 1999 by Calgary in the third round, and then re-entered the draft two years later, when Anderson was selected in the third round by Chicago.
“You couldn’t write a better story,” Anderson said of contemplating retirement two years ago before signing a one-year contract with Buffalo, and then doing so again last summer.
“Able to find a home here where a GM and a coach came in and believed in me when I was more or less a washed up old guy. It really revived the career a little bit,” Anderson said, before being able to celebrate a win. “It’s the perfect story. It’s unbelievable. You’re kind of mind numb to it all.”
Senators: Season over.
Sabres: Close season at Columbus on Friday in game rescheduled from Dec. 27 due to snow storm in Buffalo.