As was the case in the two Global Series games, when the Lightning possess the puck deep in the Buffalo zone, they are able to dictate play. There were points tonight when that happened for the Lightning, particularly during some extended stretches in the first period and then, for most of the third period.
There were also segments in this game when the Lightning were back on their heels. That was most pronounced during the second period, when the Sabres enjoyed six minutes of power play time and recorded nine shots on goal during those man advantages.
But the Lightning still managed to outscore the Sabres, 2-1, in that second period, and as a result, they took a 3-2 lead into the third. And the third was the Lightning's strongest overall frame - they scored two shorthanded goals, posted 15 shots on goal, and held the Sabres to just three shots on net and only eight total shot attempts.
Andrei Vasilevskiy may have had a quiet third, but he was tested during the first two periods. He made a key shorthanded breakaway save on Zemgus Girgensons during the first and was sensational in making those nine second period saves during the three Buffalo power plays. In all, he stopped 15 of 16 second period shots.
Some of the Lightning's most dangerous chances came off strong shifts in the offensive zone in which they forechecked aggressively to win pucks and then cycled effectively to hold onto possession. Similar to the Anaheim game, the Lightning consistently had a net-front presence. Their two second period goals were the result of such traffic - Pat Maroon screened Carter Hutton on Mikhail Sergachev's power play goal and Yanni Gourde tipped in Ryan McDonagh's point shot. Those goals were a big key to the Lightning's victory, because they erased a 2-1 deficit and allowed them to enter the final period ahead by a goal. And they happened during the period in which the Lightning totaled only five shots on net.
Of course, the other significant moment came near the midway point of the third period. The Lightning had been controlling play for the opening minutes of the frame, but hadn't been able to extend the 3-2 lead. Then, as time was winding down on a Lightning power play, they took a penalty. After a few seconds of four-on-four, the Sabres would go on their fourth power play. Those three Buffalo power play opportunities had been very dangerous. But on this one, the Lightning immediately took the wind out of Buffalo's sails. Cedric Paquette won the defensive zone faceoff, the Lightning exited the zone, and Anthony Cirelli sprung Paquette on a breakaway. He scored seconds after the four-on-four officially ended, giving the Lightning their first shorthanded goal of the year and a 4-2 lead. Less than a minute later, they would add another shorty. An errand Buffalo pass in the offensive zone led to a two-on-one counter rush for Mathieu Joseph and Ondrej Palat. Palat finished the chance, extending the Lightning lead.
Up 5-2 with just under 11 minutes left, the Lightning didn't let up. The lopsided third period shot-on-goal and shot attempt totals reflect how much they dominated possession. It was a strong finish to a solid victory.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
- Ondrej Palat - Lightning. SHG and two assists.
- Andrei Vasilevskiy - Lightning. 28 saves.
- Ryan McDonagh - Lightning. Two assists.