In one of his press conferences earlier in the week, Jon Cooper stated that, of course, he'd like the Lightning to collect points out of these two Global Series games. But he added that, regardless of the outcome, he wanted to see his team play well.
In this first game between the Lightning and Sabres, he got both. Not only did the Lightning record a victory, they produced one of their best performances of the season.
Okay, the first couple of shifts weren't so good. And the power play, after scoring on the first chance, wasn't particularly effective in the next three opportunities. But those elements don't even come close to offsetting all that the Lightning did well in this game.
Tampa Bay dominated puck possession, especially in the first two periods. The Lightning were structured when they didn't have the puck and utilized good puck management when they did. Their compete-level was very high, so they won a lot of 50/50 battles. They skated on their toes and were the first to many loose pucks. They challenged Buffalo puck carriers and played them hard, forcing turnovers all over the ice. Also, they were very efficient and clean in exiting their own end, so the Sabres weren't able to string together lengthy, offensive zone shifts.
The Sabres posted four shots on goal during the before the game was even two and a half minutes old. But after that, the Lightning took over. Nikita Kucherov opened the scoring at 3:19, finishing a two-on-one rush with Brayden Point. Kevin Shattenkirk started the sequence from behind the Lightning net with a hard rim that reached Point just outside the Sabres blue line.
Through two periods, the Lightning outshot the Sabres, 26-14. But starting with the Kucherov goal, shots were 25-10. That advantage came from Lightning's outstanding overall play and the puck possession dominance that resulted from it.
Interestingly, even though the Lightning "lost" the second period, 1-0, that frame was the Lightning's strongest in the game. Shot attempts were 24-8. But Buffalo goalie Linus Ullmark was terrific in keeping the game at 2-0 before Sam Reinhart deflected a point shot past Andrei Vasilevskiy at 15:43.
The Lightning didn't maintain that same puck possession edge in the third. The Sabres generated more sustained pressure that led to some chances. The Lightning had a few stumbles in clearing their zone - one of those miscues led to Reinhart's second goal at 11:30. That cut the Lightning lead back to a one-goal margin - Yanni Gourde had scored on a rebound nearly four minutes earlier.
But after Reinhart's second tally, the Lightning locked it down. During those final eight and a half minutes, the Sabres managed just one shot on goal. That lone shot came in the final minute during the six-on-five after Ullmark had gone to the bench for the extra attacker.
Tomorrow's a new day and it'll be a new game. But the Lightning will look to execute at the same high level as they did throughout Friday's contest.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game:
- Yanni Gourde - Lightning. GWG.
- Alex Killorn - Lightning. PPG.
- Linus Ullmark - Sabres. 31 saves.