A Buffalo Sabres team that had been outscored 14-5 in three consecutive losses (against Eastern Conference bottom-feeders) leading up to tonight, forced extra minutes against the league juggernaut, Tampa Bay Lightning.
On the back of a stellar performance in goal by Carter Hutton (who was called into action after Linus Ullmark sustained an injury in practice this morning), Buffalo held strong through 65 minutes, but could not solve Andrei Vasilevsky in the shootout, eventually dropping a 2-1 decision at Amalie Arena. Given the circumstances of how the 2018-19 campaign has deteriorated for the blue-and-gold, it’s tough to be satisfied with any loss, but securing a point on the road against a team that had won seven in-a-row coming into tonight, came as a bit of a pleasant surprise.
In a shot-heavy, high-octane first period, neither team was able to solve the opposing netminder despite 32 shots being registered between the two sides. That was, until 18:13 when Rasmus Dahlin notched his seventh of the season to get the scoring started.
After an excellent job battling in-deep by Jeff Skinner, the puck made it’s way along the boards and eventually back to Zach Bogosian at the point. Bogosian then dished it over to an open Dahlin who launched a wrist-shot from the left side to put the Sabres up 1-0. The puck took a very favorable deflection off of a Tampa Bay defender with traffic out-front.
The Sabres were able to carry the one-goal lead into the first intermission, but that advantage would be short-lived. Mid-way through the second period, as great teams typically do, the Lightning found a way to even things up as Art Ross Trophy favorite, Nikita Kucherov registered his 30th goal and 100th point of the season.
After a pass from Evan Rodrigues landed in Bogosian’s skates in front of the Lightning net, Kucherov and Tyler Johnson capitalized on the flubbed play, setting off on a 2-on-1 and eventually beating Hutton on his glove side.
It didn’t take long after that for tensions to run high, as a high-speed offensive exchange quickly turned into an extremely physical, hotly-contested affair. After taking a questionable hit into the boards, Johan Larsson received a roughing penalty for essentially rag-dolling Yanni Gourde after the whistle.
Things only escalated from there. Though no goals were scored in the final frame, there was plenty of action. With about six minutes remaining in regulation, Jeff Skinner mixed things up with Brayden Point in a pseudo-fight that gave the Sabres a late power-play opportunity, on which they failed to convert for the fourth time on the evening.
In the waning moments of overtime, a Kucherov shot bounced up high in-deep, causing some confusion from Hutton and Rasmus Ristolainen in front of the Buffalo net, which nearly led to his second tally of the evening. After Hutton froze the puck, Ristolainen took exception to how close the Lightning forward came in on his goaltender and absolutely flattened him after the whistle.
Hutton stops Kucherov point blank and the Ristolainen pushes him down. pic.twitter.com/amfzEFrYq3— Ben Mathewson (@Ben_Mathewson) February 22, 2019
Unfortunately, the Lightning would eventually prevail in the shootout, going 2-for-3 while the Sabres failed to convert on both of their opportunities.
Through good and bad, the Sabres have played at a different level against Tampa Bay this season and this contest was no exception. If by some miracle Buffalo can claw its way back into the playoff picture (which would feel a lot more realistic if they were capable of stringing together efforts like this on a nightly basis), a first-round series between these two clubs would be extremely entertaining. Unless that happens, this game will be the last time they will meet in 2018-19. A fitting end to a hard-fought season series.
The Sabres’ next game is this Saturday against the Washington Capitals. Puck drop is at 1:00PM at KeyBank Center.
Final: Sabres 1, Lightning 2 (F/SO)
Shots on Goal: Sabres 30 | Lightning 40
Sabres Goal Scorers: Rasmus Dahlin (7)
Lightning Goal Scorers: Nikita Kucherov (30)
Three Stars of the Game
1. Andrei Vasilevsky (29 saves on 30 shots)
2. Carter Hutton (39 saves on 40 shots)
3. Nikita Kucherov (1 G)