March 31, 1990: The Pittsburgh Penguins are hosting the Buffalo Sabres in the regular season finale at Civic Arena.
After an 8-5-3 February, the Penguins stumbled through March with a 2-8-3 record as they looked to hang on to the final playoff spot in the Wales Conference. A "win and you're in" scenario. If not, the New York Islanders, who were now within a point of the Penguins following a 6-3 win over the Maple Leafs three nights before, could clinch with a win and a Pittsburgh loss.
The Penguins and Sabres went to overtime tied 2-2, and at that time, there were no points awarded for making overtime and there were no shootouts, either. The Penguins lost 3-2, and with an Islanders win against the Flyers, Pittsburgh was out.
General Manager Craig Patrick acted as interim head coach for 54 of the games that season, after firing Gene Ubriaco following a 10-14-2 start. That summer, he hired Bob Johnson and almost 15 months after the teams overtime loss to the Sabres, the Penguins won their first Stanley Cup.
Fast forward 25 years and 11 days later, the Penguins were in Buffalo to face a Sabres team that was the complete opposite of that 1989-90 team. The Sabres were 2nd in the Adams Division, and held the second best record in the Wales Conference. The current Buffalo team is the worst in the league and have the best odds to land the first overall pick in the NHL Draft this summer.
This Pittsburgh team, much like the team 25 years before, played poorly down the stretch, were holding on to the final spot and had a "win and in" scenario on the final night of the season.
25 years later, their fortunes changed. The Penguins defeated the bottom-dwelling Sabres 2-0 to clinch a ninth straight playoff berth.
Anyone will tell you that a team making the playoffs is better than not qualifying. The 1989-90 Penguins were a work in progress. General Manager Craig Patrick had been putting the right pieces together through trades and the NHL Draft since his hiring that previous summer. He found the right coach in Bob Johnson and Pittsburgh made an unprecedented run to the franchises first Stanley Cup.