This victory for the Lightning was far from a thing of beauty. They fell behind early to the Buffalo Sabres and were fortunate to escape the first period only down by a goal. And while they played better in the final two periods, they leaned heavily on goaltender Ben Bishop to provide a handful of crucial saves at key times. As a result, they eked out an important win in advance of their pending four-game road trip.
Tyler Johnson joined us on our postgame show and stated that the first period was the worst period of hockey he’s experienced with the Lightning. The Sabres were the crisper, hungrier team throughout the opening frame. They netted the game’s first goal at 2:52 when rookie Sam Reinhart scored his first NHL goal. The tally came at the end of a sequence in which Lightning committed a couple of defensive zone turnovers. The Sabres continued to pressure the puck effectively throughout the period and prevented the Lightning from spending much time in the offensive zone. The Bolts only mustered three shots on Sabres goalie Chad Johnson. At the other end, the Sabres fired 16 shots on Ben Bishop, who, with 15 saves, prevented the Sabres from adding to their lead.
The Lightning’s puck management improved in the second and, as a result, they enjoyed more offensive zone time. But they didn’t tie the game until there were under six and a half minutes left – and the goal came moments after a key Bishop save on a point-blank shot for Buffalo’s Jack Eichel. After that save, J.T. Brown cleared the zone and Buffalo defenseman Jake McCabe lost the puck at center ice to Vladdy Namestnikov. Namestnikov countered on a breakaway and beat Chad Johnson to tie the score.
The third period had ebbs and flows. The Bolts killed an early penalty and then carried play for most of the first half of the frame. But around the 10-minute mark, the Lightning had an unforced turnover in their own zone and the Sabres applied heavy pressure. Buffalo generated some scoring chances and drew another Lightning penalty. On the ensuing power play, Bishop made two big saves on Tyler Ennis and Reinhart to keep the game tied at one.
Once they got through that penalty kill, the Lightning turned momentum back onto their side. They carried most of the puck possession over the next few minutes and drew a penalty on Cody Franson. With 20 seconds left in the power play, the Bolts cashed in during a scramble play in front of the net. Tyler Johnson faked a shot from the bottom of the left circle and instead passed across to Alex Killorn, who buried the shot into a vacated side of the net.
Up 2-1, the Lightning surrendered a Grade-A scoring chance on the next shift. Ryan O’Reilly skated unguarded in the slot and received a pass from Reinhart. But Bishop denied the O’Reilly chance. The Sabres kept the puck in the Lightning zone for most of the final few minutes, but couldn’t tie the score.
Sometimes a team wins a game in which it didn’t play well, at least for part of the game. In that same postgame interview, Tyler Johnson conceded that the Lightning has to clean some things up. But they’ll gladly take the win over Buffalo. It ended a two-game losing skid. And, with a tough four-game road trip starting Tuesday in Nashville, the Lightning are glad to be 4-2-0 entering the trip, not 3-3-0.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
Bishop’s key saves on Eichel and O’Reilly.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
1.Ben Bishop – Lightning. 31 saves to earn his 84th career regular season win with the Lightning, setting a new franchise record.
2.Ryan O’Reilly – Sabres. Terrific all-around game.
3.Jason Garrison – Lightning. 20:30 TOI. Played both left and right defense during the game.