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Burns: 3 things we learned from a second-straight loss

Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns recaps Tampa Bay's 2-1 loss to Buffalo on Tuesday night

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

For the first time this season, the Tampa Bay Lightning have lost two-consecutive games.

Tuesday's loss at Buffalo started similarly to Tampa Bay's defeat against Ottawa in that the opposition scored the game's opening goal and extended the lead to two.

Unlike Saturday's loss to the Senators, however, the Lightning couldn't find a way to overcome that initial deficit in Buffalo, the Bolts falling 2-1 at KeyBank Center.

Tampa Bay outshot the Sabres 30-19, the 19 shots the least the Lightning have allowed since Anaheim registered just 16 in a 3-2 shootout win for the Bolts on February 4, 2017. The Lightning controlled play from the start of the second period on, the Bolts limiting the Sabres to just eight shots over the final 40 minutes while generating plenty of good scoring chances of their own.

The Bolts just couldn't find a way to get another puck past Buffalo goaltender Carter Hutton, who earned First Star of the game honors after denying the Lightning on 29-of-30 shots.

"You know what, some nights you just have to tip your cap to the other goaltender," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said.

Tampa Bay will look to end its first losing skid of the season when it travels to Pittsburgh on Thursday to take on the Penguins.

But before that, let's break down Three Things we learned from the loss in Buffalo.

 Video: Jon Cooper on the 2-1 loss to Buffalo

1. AN ALARMING TREND

Buffalo netted the game's opening goal at 17:45 of the first period, Jeff Skinner pouncing on a rebound at the net and poking a backhanded swipe past Lightning goalie Louis Domingue for his team-best 13th goal of the season.

The goal culminated the Sabres' most impressive stretch of the game as they were able to stave off an early Lightning push at puck drop and control the game from the middle of the first period on, sustaining pressure against the Lightning net until Skinner was able to break through.

The goal also marked the eighth time in the last nine games the Lightning have given up the opening goal. What was an amusing afterthought early during that stretch as the Lightning had rallied to win most of the games in which they'd fallen behind has now morphed into an alarming trend with the Bolts dropping two in a row.

The Lightning have been chasing the game for too long now, and it's finally starting to catch up to them.

"We want to start better," Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos said. "It's not an easy league to win in. It's not an easy league to score goals in. So when you're spotting teams a goal or two goals early in the game, we know we have it in this room to come back but you don't want to make that a trend. Things like that can happen where you run into a hot goaltender, you don't end up getting as many goals as you'd like. We need to clean up a few things defensively to start the game, but other than that, I thought today was a pretty solid game. It just didn't go our way."

The Lightning fell behind by two goals in Buffalo when Kyle Okposo was able to toe drag at the top of the right circle and send a shot through a screen at 5:43 of the second. Tampa Bay responded almost immediately, Alex Killorn lobbing a pass over the neutral zone and into the offensive zone for Anthony Cirelli to skate onto for a breakaway attempt, which he buried :15 seconds after Okposo made it 2-0.

But the Lightning didn't have another answer for Hutton, who made sure the two goals would be more than enough for the Sabres.

"We did everything we could," Cooper said. "We just couldn't get that second one in."

Video: TBL@BUF: Domingue denies Reinhart's wrister

 

2. NO PUCK LUCK

To be sure, Carter Hutton was sensational in net for the Sabres. The Achilles' heel of the Buffalo organization over the last few seasons, goaltending has been unexpectedly strong for the Sabres this season and is a big reason why they've won four of their last five games and are currently in a playoff position in the Eastern Conference standings.

But the Lightning certainly did Hutton a lot of favors by failing on some glorious scoring opportunities.

And the five teammates in front of Hutton did their part to limit the Lightning's explosive offense too.

In the final minute alone, Nikita Kucherov hit the post on two separate occasions with Domingue pulled for the extra attacker, one final attempt for Kucherov on a cross-ice pass from Stamkos was thwarted by a swipe of the glove by Hutton to push the puck off the post.

"We did everything we could to try and to win that game," Cooper said. "I think scoring chances were pretty heavily in our favor. And he kicked them out. Games like that are going to happen. That's what makes our last game sting a little bit more we kind of let that one slip away and then we run into a team that we played pretty well and don't get any points. It's tough."

When Hutton wasn't living his best life, the Sabres' skaters were helping keep the puck out of the net. The Lightning had a number of opportunities on a partially-opened net that were setting up to be sure goals. But the Sabres played with a desperation. They were there to tie up sticks at the last moment. Or just get enough of the shot to deflect it off target. Or clog up the shooting lanes to make sure nothing got through to Hutton.

Late in the second period was a perfect example. Anthony Cirelli had a rebound attempt and an open net to shoot for, but his attempt was interrupted and the puck sent wide. Moments later, Cedric Paquette looked like he might score on a rebound. Again, he wasn't able to get a shot on frame because of a last-ditch effort to disrupt by the Sabres.

The Sabres played an all-around excellent defensive game after going ahead by two goals.

And in doing so, they limited the NHL's top scoring team averaging 3.65 goals a game entering Tuesday to just one goal.

Video: TBL@BUF: Killorn flips lob pass to Cirelli

 

3. CERNAK FITS RIGHT IN

Sam Reinhart gave Erik Cernak a welcome-to-the-NHL moment in the first period when he completely blew past the rookie defenseman making his NHL debut and got in on goal. Cernak was bailed out when Domingue was able to make a save on Reinhart with the glove.

Later in the first, Cernak took an interference penalty against Jack Eichel, what would prove to be the only penalty whistled on the Lightning the whole game.

But after that inauspicious start to his NHL career, Cernak settled down in the second and third periods and was a factor for the Bolts down the stretch.

"I think the first period was a little bit harder. I was nervous," Cernak said after the game. "But, I think the second and third was much better."

Cernak finished the game with five hits, tied with Mikhail Sergachev and Cedric Paquette for most on the Lightning, and two shots in 17:06 time on ice. He was in at the end of the game when the Lightning brought on an extra attacker and were scrambling for the game-tying goal. And he overcame his early missteps to finish plus-one on the night.

"I thought he was great," Cooper said. "He was comfortable out there. The speed was no problem for him. He broke the pucks out he needed. He battled. He did a good job."

With Anton Stralman sidelined due to an upper-body injury, Cernak provides the Lightning with a capable right shot defenseman to fill in alongside Ryan McDonagh on the Bolts' shutdown pair. He's a big bodied blueliner who uses his size to his advantage, can skate surprisingly well for a man his size and has a howitzer of a shot from the point, which he showed off late in the Buffalo game.

"I thought he was great tonight," said Anthony Cirelli, who scored his third goal of the season, ending a 10-game goal drought, in Buffalo. "I'm so happy for him getting into the game. He's strong. He's mean. He skates well. He has a hard shot. He's kind of that all-around defenseman. I definitely don't like playing against him in practice. He plays hard."

It's unknown how long Cernak will remain with the Lightning. Once Stralman is healthy, that might signal the end of Cernak's stay in Tampa Bay. Cernak needs games, whether he's at the NHL or AHL level, and he's not going to get them sitting on the NHL bench.

But, for one night anyway, Cernak proved he can play in the NHL. The confidence he gained from a successful debut will hopefully sustain him the next few times he takes the ice for the Lightning.

"I don't know how long I'll be staying here but hopefully I will be here more days and I have a chance to play more games," Cernak said. "I just have to play my game and be ready."

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