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Burns: 3 Things we learned from ending Buffalo's 10-game win streak

Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns recaps the Bolts' 5-4 win over the Sabres on Thursday night

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

Thursday night at AMALIE Arena might have been your run-of-the-mill late-November regular season game against a division opponent on the schedule, but it certainly felt like Game 7 of a playoff series.

Every shift, every shot, every movement even was magnified when the Tampa Bay Lightning hosted the Buffalo Sabres with first place in the National Hockey League standings on the line.

The contest featured five lead changes. There were multiple scrums following whistles. The game had an edge to it, an expected chippiness with Buffalo riding a franchise-tying 10-game win streak into Tampa and wanting to prove their start to the season was no fluke against a team many felt was the best in the Eastern Conference entering the season. The Lightning weren't going to back down either, not in their building and certainly not to a team that occupied the Atlantic Division basement for the last couple seasons.

The game was tied 4-4 late in regulation. Overtime seemed to be a real possibility.

That is, until Cedric Paquette found the back of the net with 5:41 to go to put the Lightning in the lead for good, and the Bolts held Buffalo in check during a furious push over the final minutes to finish off a 5- 4 victory for Tampa Bay, one that moved its record to 18-7-1 (37 pts.) on the season and provided the Lightning with first place, at least for one night, in the league, Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division standings.

How did the Bolts pull it off?

We'll break it down in Three Things we learned from ending Buffalo's 10-game win streak.

Video: BUF@TBL: Killorn hammers home loose puck

1. THE RESPONSE GOAL
Tampa Bay netted the game's first goal, Dan Girardi following his own saved shot to pot the rebound past Buffalo goaltender Carter Hutton 2:59 into the game for an early 1-0 Lightning lead.

The Sabres wouldn't trail for long however. Zemgus Girgensons got his stick on Rasmus Ristolainen's shot from the right point to tip the puck past Louis Domingue and tie the game at 8:42 of the first. Just 1:03 later, Sam Reinhart scored the first of his two goals on the night to put Buffalo in front 2-1.

The pair of goals, coming so close together, could have been big momentum shift for the Sabres.

The Lightning wouldn't allow it though.

Less than a minute after Reinhart provided the Sabres the lead, Alex Killorn erased it, jumping on a loose puck after J.T. Miller drew Hutton out of position and sending a shot into the goal to level the score 2-2 and give the Bolts a much-needed boost.
in a game-filled with response goals, Killorn's was the timeliest. 

"It was great," Cedric Paquette said of Killorn's tide-stemming goal. "I think that line was really good. They set the tone in the first. They've played good all year, but I think with Millsy out there they played really good tonight."

Killorn's game-tying goal was even more crucial considering the Lightning were down two defensemen at the time. Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh both had to leave the game at different points of the first period. Girardi was able to return. McDonagh never did.

 Video: Girardi on tonight's physical game

2. DOWN ON DEFENSE
Dan Girardi collided knee-to-knee with Sabres centerman Tage Thompson at center ice in the first period, Girardi remaining down on the ice for a moment before being helped off by Lightning head athletic trainer Tom Mulligan and Victor Hedman and walking down the tunnel. Girardi would return later in the period.

"I got pretty lucky," Girardi said after the game. "My knee really hurt but just a little bump. The pain went away and was lucky that I wasn't injured more."

Ryan McDonagh wasn't as lucky. With Girardi still in the locker room, McDonagh was shoved behind by Buffalo's Jack Eichel at the start of a Sabres power play, McDonagh falling face first into the boards and remaining down on the ice, sparking a scrum behind the Buffalo goal.

McDonagh would rise to his feet eventually and skate off under his own power. But he never returned for the rest of the game.

Lightning head coach Jon Cooper didn't have an update on McDonagh's status but hoped to know more Friday. The Bolts, meanwhile, had to play nearly the entire game without one of the NHL's best defensemen and their leader for time on ice, defenseman scoring and blocked shots.

"He played four and half minutes, so now your down to five and still to put up the defensive numbers we put up for that game to hold them to a pretty low shot total and low scoring chance total is a tribute to the guys back there and how we defended," Cooper said.

Buffalo registered just 22 shots on goal. Through two meetings this season, the Lightning have held the Sabres to 41 total shots. The rest of the defensemen stepped up their game with McDonagh out, logging more minutes and getting on the scoresheet to replace McDonagh's lost production. Victor Hedman had a pair of assists. Erik Cernak registered his fourth career assist in just nine NHL games. Mikhail Sergachev played one of his best games of the season and had the primary assist on Paquette's game-winning goal.

"I think we did a great job," Girardi said of the defensive corps. "A lot more ice time out there with Mac out…and I think we did a good job of taking care of our D zone."

 Video: BUF@TBL: Stamkos strikes quickly on power play

3. THIRD PERIOD RALLY
The game was tied 3-3 in the third period until Tage Thompson scored 2:29 into the final frame to nudge Buffalo back in front.

The Sabres have been exceptional during their 10-game streak of winning close games. Nine of their 10 wins were by one goal. Four of them came in overtime. Three were decided by a shootout.

The Lightning faced an uphill climbing trying to rally against a team playing with as much confidence as any team in the league currently.

The Bolts' own confidence, which has been forged with mostly this same group through five-plus years of regular season and playoff success, however, never wavered.

"The guys were extremely positive on the bench," Cooper said of the team's mood when falling behind in the third. "They felt this was a game we could win and we deserved to win."

The Lightning earned a power play just over four minutes into the third when Johan Larsson was whistled for tripping. Earlier in the game, the Bolts had a four-minute power play from Larsson's high-stick on J.T. Miller but could do nothing with it.

This time, they capitalized almost immediately.

Hedman slid a puck over to Steven Stamkos in his office, and the Lightning captain blistered a one-timer past Hutton to level the score again 4-4 just seven seconds into the man-advantage opportunity.

"The power play kind of sputtered a little bit in the first two periods, but they got the huge one and we needed it," Cooper said. "Big-time goal by 91."

With the third period winding down and the game looking like it might need overtime to produce a winner, Paquette got the puck above the left circle and shot from distance, beating Hutton for his first-game-winning tally of the season.

"It's a great feeling," Paquette said. "We've played good all year, but to see that one go in against a team like that, it's a good feeling."

"It was great to see Ceddy get the winner," Cooper added. "I thought he had an outstanding game tonight, and that line was great. They got rewarded for it at the end."

And the Lightning were rewarded for their perseverance and their grittiness with two points in one of their finest performances of the season.

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