As I wrote yesterday, Friday's game was one of the Lightning's best performances of the season so far. On Saturday, while the result was the same, the path to victory was much bumpier.
The Lightning endured puck management and coverage issues, especially in the first two periods. During that time, the Sabres played like a team that desperately wanted to salvage a split of the series - their compete-level was high and, in contrast to Friday's game, they owned a large five-on-five possession advantage.
For the first 35 minutes, that was the narrative. Buffalo controlled most of the action when the teams were at even strength. But still, despite ceding most of the puck possession during that time, the Lightning managed to build a 2-1 lead. That was possible because a) Curtis McIlhinney was strong in net and b) the Lightning's power play netted them two goals.
When Rasmus Ristolainen took an interference penalty at 14:43 of the second, the Lightning went on their third power play chance of the game. While they didn't score on it, they generated momentum. They posted eight shots on goal during the Ristolainen penalty - many of those were Grade-A chances. The well-executed power play helped the Lightning once five-on-five play resumed. And for the rest of the game, possession time was much more balanced.
Another key to this Lightning win was that, while they weren't especially crisp defensively, neither were the Sabres. Even when the Lightning struggled with possession during the first 35 minutes, they effectively got pucks and players to the Buffalo net when they did play in the offensive zone. Often, those players were open. That trend continued into the third, which, as I just mentioned, was much more evenly-contested.
On four of their five goals, the Lightning had traffic at the net. The other, Yanni Gourde's third period tally, came right off a faceoff. Speaking of which, faceoffs were an additional element to the Lightning's victory. On Friday, the Lightning dominated in the dot, winning 40 of 58 draws. Saturday's faceoff numbers were essentially even, with the Lightning owning a 37-36 edge. But three of those 37 wins were particularly significant. In addition to Gourde's goal, the Lightning netted two others shortly after a successful offensive zone faceoff. Victor Hedman scored on the power play seven seconds after a Steven Stamkos win. And Pat Maroon's crucial goal in the closing seconds of the second period occurred after Paquette's faceoff win nine seconds earlier.
So while the Lightning weren't as sharp as in Friday's game, they did enough well to earn a victory. McIlhinney stood tall when the Lightning were under siege. The power play scored twice and helped turn momentum on the third chance. After that, the line of Paquette, Gourde, and Maroon produced two even strength goals and the Anthony Cirelli line, with Mathieu Joseph and Alex Killorn, added one.
The Lightning banked all four points in the Global Series. Now they head back home, where they will play 16 of their next 22 games. They'll look to rest up and recover from this overseas trip before hosting the New York Rangers on Thursday.
Lightning Radio Three Stars of the Game (as selected by Phil Esposito):
- Pat Maroon - Lightning. Two goals.
- Yanni Gourde - Lightning. GWG, assist.
- Curtis McIlhinney - Lightning. 40 saves.