There were several factors that led to this Lightning win. First, when the Sabres surged at different points in the game, Ben Bishop made terrific saves, initially to prevent the Sabres from opening the scoring and then later to preserve the Lightning lead. Second, the Lightning scored big goals at key times, tallies that sapped those aforementioned Buffalo momentum surges. Third, after netting a goal in the closing seconds of the second period to establish a 3-1 lead, the Lightning followed that up with a sound, structured performance in the third and didn't let the Sabres mount a comeback. The end result was a third consecutive win to start this five-game road trip.
The Lightning weren't the only team dealing with injury issues in this game. The Sabres are missing several of their key players, including Jack Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly and Tyler Ennis. The absence of those dynamic offensive players has had an impact on Buffalo's ability to score goals. The Sabres rank last in the league in goals scored per game - in each of the eight games prior to this one, they'd been held to two goals or less.
But the Sabres did enough in this game to generate more than two goals. There were three distinct stretches when the Sabres not only dictated play, but also produced some Grade-A scoring chances. The first of those came in the opening minutes. The Sabres ended up with 15 first period shots on goal - most of those came in the first eight minutes. Some of those were routine saves for Bishop, but several were not. Those early Bishop stops helped the Lightning keep the game scoreless. Then, about eight minutes in, Jonathan Drouin, who returned to the lineup after missing seven games with an injury, chased down a puck in the offensive zone. He drew two Buffalo defenders to him and slipped a pass to Valtteri Filppula at the right circle. Filppula also got the attention of a couple of Buffalo players and that allowed Nikita Nesterov to skate unguarded to the left circle. Filppula got the puck to Nesterov, who finished his shot past Robin Lehner. The Lightning had the lead - and wouldn't relinquish it for the rest of the game.
The second Buffalo surge occurred at the start of the second period. The Sabres' best chance during that time frame came when Bishop turned the puck over on a pass up the middle. He was out of the net when Kyle Okposo intercepted it in the high slot. But Bishop scrambled back in front and snared Okposo's shot with his catching glove.
The Lightning withstood that Buffalo surge and eventually pushed back. In the offensive zone, Nesterov drew a penalty when he stickhandled behind the Buffalo net and Okposo was whistled for holding. On the ensuing power play, the Lightning added to their lead. The Sabres attempted a shorthanded rush, but lost the puck in the Lightning's zone. Brian Gionta and Evander Kane were stuck up ice as the Lightning countered with numbers. Off the rush, Filppula set up Alex Killorn, who scored from the slot.
The third and final Buffalo surge came after Cody Franson tallied a power play goal at 12:50. The Sabres buzzed for the next several minutes, but couldn't tie the game. Then, with less than a minute left in the period and the Lightning having a defensive zone faceoff, Jon Cooper decided to put Nikita Kucherov out for a shift with Tyler Johnson and Killorn (Kucherov had been playing all game with Ondrej Palat and Vladdy Namestnikov). The move paid dividends. Johnson stole the puck in the defensive zone and Killorn carried it the Buffalo end. After Nick Baptiste got it back for Buffalo, he attempted a pass out of the Sabres end. But Killorn, while falling to the ice, got his stick on the pass and maneuvered it to Kucherov. Kucherov wired a shot from the left circle past Lehner, who was being screened by Johnson. The goal came with 18 seconds left in the period - a dagger goal for the Sabres to allow.
Up 3-1, the Lightning took care of business in the third. They effectively killed a couple of penalties in the first 10 minutes and didn't allow the Sabres to build momentum at any point in the frame. Brayden Point finished the scoring with a late power play goal.
With six points through the first three games on the trip, the Lightning have already met Jon Cooper's stated wish on road trips - come home with more points than games played. Now it's time to get greedy. They'll look for win number four on the trip Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game:
Kucherov's second period goal.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
- Alex Killorn - Lightning. Goal and assist. Team-high seven shots.
- Tyler Johnson - Lightning. Assist. One of his best games of the season.
- Ben Bishop - Lightning. 32 saves.