The Tampa Bay Lightning entered the 2019 NHL Global Series in Stockholm, Sweden having lost three of their previous four contests.
The Lightning were playing for the first time in a week when they hooked up with the Buffalo Sabres for round one of the two-game, back-to-back set on Friday.
The time off certainly proved beneficial for the Bolts.
Tampa Bay played one of its most complete games of the season. An attention-to-detail defensive effort combined with an opportunistic offense and solid special teams play led to a 3-2 victory for the Lightning at the Ericsson Globe.
Victor Hedman, playing in his home country, and Pat Maroon each returned to the lineup after missing the previous two games due to injury and helped set up Lightning goals. Yanni Gourde tallied the eventual game-winner, his rebound jam at 7:45 of the third putting the Bolts in front 3-1.
Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 20-of-22 shots to hold Buffalo at bay.
The Lightning will go for the back-to-back sweep when they host the Sabres for round two of the NHL Global Series from the Ericsson Globe Saturday.
Here's how the Bolts were able to get back in the win column Friday.
Video: Kucherov, Killorn pace Lightning to 3-2 win in Sweden
1. SOLID DEFENSE + AGGRESSIVE FORECHECK = VICTORY
Tampa Bay played one of its best all-around games in Friday's win against Buffalo. The Lightning made smart plays defensively and kept most of Buffalo's attempts to the perimeter. The Bolts' forecheck disrupted Buffalo's offensive flow and saw the puck buried in the Sabres' zone for large stretches of the game.
With both of those elements to their game working, the Lightning were able to take control of the game early and answer any pushback the Sabres mounted.
"I think the whole team played very well tonight," Lightning forward Yanni Gourde said. "We kept our game very simple. We chipped the puck in, and we were really good on the forecheck. That's something we've talked about a lot in the past is our forecheck is our greatest asset, and we've got to utilize it and keep doing it. I think tonight was a good example of it."
The Lightning overcame a shaky opening five minutes where they left the front of the net wide open as the Sabres were cycling the puck around the offensive zone and putting lots of pressure on Andrei Vasilevskiy's net. But once the Bolts settled down, they started to take charge. Leading 1-0, the Lightning kept the puck in the offensive zone for a couple shifts and were even able to get a change to continue wearing down the Sabres. That extended effort in the offensive zone led to a penalty that eventually ended with Alex Killorn's power-play goal and a 2-0 Lightning lead.
The Bolts continued to play smart with the puck in their own end, making the sound breakout pass to get out of the zone with ease. And any time Buffalo appeared to be mounting an offensive threat, the Lightning were waiting to break it up with a block or a lift of the stick or just by getting in the way.
Buffalo finished with just 22 shots on Tampa Bay's net and had only a handful of high-quality scoring chances.
Credit the Lightning defensive effort for keeping the Sabres frustrated for nearly the entire contest.
"The more you play offense, the better your defensive stats are going to be. That's just the way it works," Killorn said. "There are certain things defensively we want to work on, but when you're playing a majority of the game in the offensive zone, you're really helping yourself out. And I think tonight, when you look at our D zone, a lot of times we got out pretty quick. So spending less time helps us out."
Video: TBL@BUF: Killorn, Hedman combine for power-play goal
2. POWER PLAY PROVIDES SPARK
Tampa Bay's special teams struggles have been much discussed through the first month of the season.
After leading the NHL for both power-play and penalty-kill percentage last season, the Lightning have been mediocre in those two areas, the penalty kill in particular having problems keeping pucks out of its own net and ranking 27th in the League entering the two games in Sweden.
But the power play too has been a downer for the Lightning, despite ranking sixth in the League. So many times last season, the Lightning would gain momentum off their power play, whether they scored on it or not. This season, its been feast or famine for the Bolts. They've connected on 23.1 percent of their opportunities, but when they don't cash in, play has generally swung in the opponent's direction.
Against Buffalo, though, the power play provided a spark that carried the Lightning through to the finish line of their one-goal victory.
Leading 1-0, Tampa Bay pushed its advantage to two goals late in the opening period, Alex Killorn getting a tip on Victor Hedman's shot from the point to put the Lightning in front 2-0.
Killorn has scored two power-play goals in his last three games and already has as many power-play goals this season as he did in 2017-18 or 2018-19.
The power-play marker allowed the Lightning to grab control of the game and take a 2-0 advantage into the first intermission. Buffalo cut the lead to one on two separate occasions, but the Lightning had an answer to stem the Sabres momentum each time.
"I think our penalty kill was excellent tonight, and we got a power-play goal," Gourde said. "That's going to help. It's always huge to have the special teams working."
Video: TBL@BUF: Gourde cleans up rebound in front
3. THE CRITICAL GOAL
After Buffalo cut Tampa Bay's lead to 2-1 with less than five minutes remaining in the second period, the outcome was in doubt.
The Lightning had controlled play over the first two periods and were clearly the better team, at least on Friday. But suddenly the Sabres trailed by only a goal with over a period left to play and try to net the tying goal.
It would have been a shame for the Lightning to find themselves on the short end of the scoreboard at the 60-minute whistle after working so hard to play the game the right way in the first and second periods.
The next goal would be critical. If the Lightning scored, they could massage away the remainder of the game. If Buffalo managed to level the score, the even terms would have been a major discouragement to the Bolts, perhaps to the point they wouldn't be able to get back in the game.
Fortunately for the Lightning, that scenario never played out. A fourth line of Pat Maroon, Cedric Paquette and Yanni Gourde combined for the back-breaking goal that proved to be the game-winner in the 3-2 victory.
On the play, Pat Maroon maneuvered around the net and tried to stuff one in at the opposite post. Ullmark was there to make the block but Paquette and Gourde were lurking in front for the rebound, Gourde able to get his stick on the loose puck at the back post to re-establish the Lightning's two-goal lead at 3-1 with 12:15 to go.
"We won a face-off and we get the puck deep," Gourde said, explaining what he saw on the winning goal. "Pat holds onto the puck. It was kind of a play we've talked about where Pat, he's so strong on the puck, he's big and strong. Whenever he went around the net, I knew I was going to go back post and hoping the puck was going to sit there. Obviously, it did. I just had to put it in the net. It was a pretty nice play by him."
Even when Sam Reinhart scored the second of his two goals with 9:30 remaining to cut the Lightning lead to 3-2, the Bolts were far enough in front they were able to stave off the Sabres late push and salt away the remainder of the game.