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Recap: Sabres squander lead, playoff standing in loss to Lightning

An questionable penalty and late-game fatigue played a role in the Sabres’ third period collapse

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Buffalo Sabres Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

It was the result that many expected, but given the circumstances, the Buffalo Sabres’ 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning leaves a sour taste. In the second half of a back-to-back, the Sabres certainly looked like a fatigued squad, managing to produce only five shots on goal in the third period.

Tampa Bay got the scoring started less than 30 seconds into the opening frame when Brayden Point notched his 29th of the season. Tyler Johnson won the draw in the Sabres’ zone and following a nifty passing sequence by the Lightning forwards on Linus Ullmark’s right side, point was able to hammer it past a confused Macro Scandella, unopposed.

Fortunately the sold-out crowd at KeyBank Center got a nice lift when Sam Reinhart evened the score five minutes later with his 10th of the season. After receiving a pass near the blue line, Reinhart made a very slick move past a stumbling Steven Stamkos, beating Louis Domingue with a gorgeous wrister from the high-slot.

Just when it seemed that the first period (one where Buffalo was the superior squad overall), would end at one a piece, Tage Thompson and Zemgus Girgensons were able to work a little magic to put the Sabres up 2-1 with ten seconds remaining on the clock.

After recovering the puck in the defensive zone, Girgensons turned on the jets and raced down the ice to set up a two-on-one. Thompson received the pass near his skates, but recovered nicely and slipped in his sixth of the year past Domingue on the far side.

Despite out-shooting the Lightning 12-11 in the second period, the strain of playing the night before began to show. At 7:50, Ondrej Palat notched his sixth of the year to bring the game even at two. After receiving a beautiful pass from Mikhail Sergachev in the slot, Palat tipped it home in traffic.

An otherwise uneventful period with no other goals and zero penalties called, as the clock ticked closer to the second intermission it just had the feel of a frame that the Sabres desperately needed to get out of. Sadly, the outcome we saw taking place toward the end of the second, reared its ugly head again in the third.

Scandella did give the Sabres a glimmer of hope (and their lead back) at 5:54 when he converted on Jason Pominville’s pass on yet another two-on-one opportunity. the goal marked Scandella’s third of the 2018-19 campaign.

Sadly, it was all downhill from that point on. Just 23 seconds later, Nikita Kucherov scored his 22nd of the season, after Lawrence Pilut failed to clear the zone, which eventually resulted with Kucherov receiving the puck in the slot and flicking home a gorgeous wrist shot to tie the game at three.

Right when it looked like the Sabres might be afforded an opportunity to regain the lead on the power-play, just 23 seconds into the man-advantage, Jack Eichel was sent to the box on a very questionable elbowing call. Stamkos and the rest of his Tampa Bay counterparts were able to take advantage of their disheartened opponents when he gave his team the lead during four-on-four action. The goal marked his 24th of the season.

At 18:41 Ryan Callahan sealed the deal, converting on an untimely holding penalty from Pilut. The Sabres had a few chances to pull within one in the final 90 seconds, but were unable to convert.

As the Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets all celebrated victories this evening, the Sabres were officially bumped from playoff position. With a tough three-game Western Conference road trip before the All-Star break, they’ll need to steal as many points as they can from a tough slate of opponents.

The Sabres next game is against the Edmonton Oilers on Monday. Puck drop is set for 9:00 PM at Rogers Place.

Final: Lightning 5, Sabres 3

Shots on Goal: Sabres 33 | Lightning 30

Sabres Goal Scorers: Sam Reinhart (10), Tage Thompson (6), Marco Scandella (3)

Lightning Goal Scorers: Brayden Point (29), Ondrej Palat (6), Nikita Kucherov (22), Steven Stamkos (24), Ryan Callahan (5)

Three Stars of the Game

1. Nikita Kuchrov (1 G, 2 A)

2. Steven Stamkos (1 G, 1A)

3. Victor Hedman (2 A)