Tampa Bay pulled within three points of the idle Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday with a resounding 3-0 shutout of the Buffalo Sabres.
After the New York Islanders scored a goal with 1.1 seconds left in Dallas to salvage a point against the Stars, the Bolts are now tied for third in the Eastern Conference standings with the Rangers on 84 points behind Montreal (87) and the Islanders (85).
The Lightning continue to make Amalie Arena a fortress, improving to 24-6-1 at home.
So, what did we find out about the Bolts following the regular season series finale against the Sabres? Read along for a few quick thoughts.
1. BRAYDON COBURN PROVIDES SOME PUNCH (LITERALLY)
In his first game as a Bolt, newly-acquired defenseman Braydon Coburn certainly played as advertised. He skated confidently and moved the puck well. He displayed the experience befitting his 10 seasons in the NHL.
And, Coburn showed he’s not a player to messed with.
Near the end of the second period, Coburn put a hard, clean lick on Buffalo captain Brian Gionta in the Bolts’ zone, which drew the ire of the Sabres’ Marcus Foligno. A couple seconds later, Coburn and Foligno had dropped the gloves, Coburn getting the better of the fight as Foligno’s helmet popped off his head but hung around his neck by the chin strap, whipping into his face with each right-hand jab Coburn managed to land.
“I hit Gionta there, pretty big hit, and I think Foligno came over, and he was just sticking up for his teammate,” Coburn said. “I’ll take that every day.”
Coburn earned the respect of his teammates with his physical play and the admiration from the home crowd, who responded by giving the newcomer a loud ovation as he made his way back to the locker room.
“That’s a pretty good entrance, come in and lay a big hit and get in a scrap, gets the fans on your side right away,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said.
Lightning fans will certainly appreciate Coburn’s fire and toughness throughout the remainder of the regular season.
2. BIG BOUNCE BACK FOR VASILEVSKIY
Andrei Vasilevskiy was going through the toughest stretch of his professional career entering Tuesday’s game against Buffalo.
The Russian rookie hadn’t won a game since February 5 in Dallas and had dropped three straight starts. In his last NHL outing versus Colorado, Vasilevskiy gave up five goals on just 18 shots and was clearly dejected as he spoke with reporters following the game.
A couple days later, Vasilevskiy was re-assigned to the Lightning’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse, a move that was made purely to give the 20-year-old more starts no matter the level but one he undoubtedly viewed as somewhat of a demotion. In Syracuse, Vasilevskiy again struggled, allowing four goals on 34 shots and getting tagged with the loss.
Against Buffalo, Vasilevskiy kept the Lightning in the game through the first period as the Bolts started slowly. He made a handful of saves early, including a block from the slot and sprawling glove save on the rebound to keep the Sabres off the board.
“They go up, who knows what happens after that,” Cooper said. “But he shut the door, and then we ended up getting the lead and that was it.”
Once Vasilevskiy thwarted Buffalo’s opening surge, he was rarely tested over the game’s final two-plus periods. He made 28 saves total to earn the first shutout of his NHL career.
“It gives me some confidence,” Vasilevskiy said of blanking Buffalo. “Right now, I feel better because it was for me a bounce back for a bad game in Colorado.”
3. 50-MINUTE GAME
Tampa Bay had one of its worst stretches of play for the first 10 minutes against Buffalo. The Lightning played with little energy early. Their passing was a second too slow and when delivered wildly inaccurate.
The Sabres had a handful of Grade A chances early that, fortunately for Tampa Bay, they couldn’t convert, partly because of Vasilevskiy’s brilliance and partly because of Buffalo’s ineptness.
The Lightning were up 1-0 heading into the first intermission after Steven Stamkos scored his 36th goal of the year late in the opening period, but, truth be told, it was a lead they probably didn’t deserve.
“We came in with the expectation that we needed to be a lot better (than Sunday against Florida),” Stamkos said. “We weren’t in the first. We were lucky to get out with the lead, but I think that maybe gave us a little momentum.”
Once the Lightning got settled, it was business as usual for a team that ranks second in the NHL for home victories (24).
The Bolts have to be better from the start, though, particularly with some of the stronger Atlantic Division opponents that will be coming to Amalie Arena in the coming weeks.
“It was a little frustrating the way we came out, especially after the way the Florida game went,” Cooper said. “That’s something we’re definitely going to have to address.”