In their first road game of the regular season, the Lightning posted a solid win. The Buffalo Sabres are a much different team than the one that finished with a league-low 54 points last season. They’ve got a terrific young player in Jack Eichel and a Stanley Cup-winning coach in Dan Bylsma. There’s a lot of excitement about the Sabres this year – and deservedly so. They will be a much-improved club. And the Lightning understood the challenge of facing a team with tremendous upside.
That upside was evident in the first period, which was Buffalo’s best frame in the game. The Sabres were quick to loose pucks and forced some turnovers in the Lightning zone. Buffalo enjoyed the majority of the puck possession in the first (and was aided by a decisive advantage in the faceoff circle). The Sabres outshot the Lightning, 11-8, in the period. But in terms of actual scoring chances, the Lightning had the more dangerous looks. J.T. Brown, Jonathan Drouin and Nikita Kucherov all had wonderful scoring chances, but Sabres goalie Chad Johnson kept the game scoreless after 20 minutes.
In the second period, the Lightning took over. They carried a power play into the period and then, shortly after that power play ended, they received another advantage. While the Bolts didn’t score on either opportunity, those power plays helped set the tone for the rest of the period. Unlike the first, the Sabres weren’t able to possess the puck for any significant amount of time. One reason was that the Lightning’s puck management was crisper. Another was that they won more faceoffs. In fact, the first Lightning goal came off a Valtteri Filppula offensive zone faceoff win. Erik Condra put a high shot from the point past a screened Johnson.
As was the case on Thursday against the Flyers, the Lightning had some chances to add to their 1-0 second period advantage. But like Thursday, they couldn’t build a 2-0 lead and the opposition tied the score. In this game, the Sabres converted after a Lightning d-zone turnover. Ben Bishop stopped successive shots from David Legwand and Josh Gorges, but couldn’t deny the third attempt, a backhander from Nicolas Deslauriers. On Thursday, the Flyers, after tying the game, popped in another goal less than two minutes later. But the Lightning didn’t allow the Sabres to build any momentum from the Deslauriers goal. That Buffalo tally occurred at the 13:55 mark of the second. The Sabres didn’t post another shot for the rest of the period. Instead, the Lightning immediately pushed back. Ryan Callahan nearly scored from the right circle on the shift after the Buffalo tally. Then, during a late second period power play, Filppula put a shot off the post. Finally, just as the power play ended, Nikita Kucherov wristed a high shot from the right circle over Johnson’s glove. The goal came in the final minute of the period and allowed the Bolts to enter the third period with the lead.
The Sabres made a push to start the third and received an early power play. But the Bolts killed it off, preserving their 2-1 lead. Then, after Jonathan Drouin forced a turnover from Gorges in the Buffalo end, Callahan banked the puck off the side of the net and it caromed in front to Steven Stamkos. Stamkos reacted quickly to redirect the puck into the net. That goal took much of the wind out of Buffalo’s sails. J.T. Brown added a fourth goal when he deflected a Jason Garrison point shot past Johnson. The Sabres put some shots on net in the closing minutes (and Zemgus Girgensons hit the post), but would get no closer.
This was an impressive win for a number of reasons. The Lightning withstood the first period Sabres surge and defended well, limiting Buffalo’s scoring chances. After the Lightning lost the lead in the second, they immediately regained momentum and took the lead back before the period ended. Then they effectively closed out the game in the third, netting two insurance goals.
One reason why the Lightning led the NHL in scoring last year was that they received a balanced attack. In this game, all four lines contributed goals (Kucherov’s goal was essentially a power play goal, but his line was on the ice for it). That’s a great sign as the team readies itself for Monday’s afternoon game in Boston.
Lightning Radio Big Moment of the Game:
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
1.Valtteri Filppula – Lightning. Assist. A force in puck possession.
2.Erik Condra – Lightning. Goal.
3.J.T. Brown – Lightning. Goal.