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Vasilevskiy (30 saves) lifts Lightning past Sabres

by Joe Yerdon

BUFFALO – The Tampa Bay Lightning scored three goals in the first period against the Buffalo Sabres and got great goaltending from Andrei Vasilevskiy to win for the second time in three games.

Vasilevskiy made 30 saves, and Nikita Kucherov had a goal and an assist to help the Lightning to a 4-1 win at First Niagara Center on Thursday.

Kucherov's fifth goal of the season gave the Lightning a 3-0 lead with 1:40 left in the first period.

"We haven't had good starts lately, so to get off to a 3-0 lead on the road, you take that every time," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said.

It was the first time this season the Lightning led after the first period, and the three goals were their biggest offensive output in the period this season.

"It's unreal that we even have to talk about that, to be honest," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "We're so used to being able to score and now when we do score it's like, 'Holy cow boys, look what we just did.' We've got to wipe that mindset away. ... It's just things we can keep pounding into our guys' heads. To say, 'See, these are things you need to do to make sure the puck goes into the back of the net,' and hopefully we continue to do that."

Tampa Bay (7-6-2) scored five goals in the first period of their first 14 games of the season.

"First period was good," Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said. "It was probably one of the better first periods we had so far this year and we got rewarded for it as well."

Stamkos gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead 5:55 into the game. He received a pass across the attacking zone from Valtteri Filppula and shot a one-timer past Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark for his seventh goal.

"Great play by my two linemates," Stamkos said. "[Ondrej] Palat did a great job kicking it wide, go to the net, it's pretty simple hockey. We had a great first period and that was the difference in the game."

Tyler Johnson made it 2-0 with his second goal of the season with 8:25 left. He took a pass from Alex Killorn in the slot and his wrist shot beat Ullmark to his blocker side.

Chad Johnson replaced Ullmark after the first period. Ullmark made eight saves; Johnson made 10.

"We gave a good team too many easy opportunities to score," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "They took heavily advantage of it. Some checking assignments and missed plays, and Stamkos has got a one-timer and Johnson's got a look in the slot. ... We hung our goalie out to dry with those opportunities."

The Lightning have won seven straight games against the Sabres dating to Dec. 4, 2014. The Sabres (5-8-0) had won two games in a row.

The Sabres came out strong in the second period and outshot the Lightning 21-8. Sabres rookie Jack Eichel cut the lead to 3-1 with his fifth goal 4:21 into the second period.

Eichel received a pass from Mike Weber and skated into the Lightning zone, spinning past defenseman Andrej Sustr into the slot and took a snap shot that got past Vasilevskiy low to his glove side.

"As a team, we've been working on catching those passes on the boards with your back toward the [defense] and moving," Eichel said. "Good play by [Tyler Ennis]. I just wanted to kind of push the [defense] back. I think [Sustr] tried to step up on me on my left side and I was able to turn him my other way and get in for a shot."

All of Eichel's goals have come at home.

Vasilevskiy, starting in place of Ben Bishop, made 20 saves in the second period.

"Moments, scrambles, screen shots, but that's my work," Vasilevskiy said. "I don't have to come into locker room and say, 'Oh my gosh, 21 shots'. This is my work. Just one more day."

The Lightning and Sabres combined for five shots on goal in the third period. The Sabres led the game in shot attempts 62-38.

"That's something you obviously want to feel as a team," Stralman said. "Even if it's a tight game and you had a terrible period like we just had, come out in the third and hold them to what, two or three shots, that's pretty good. I don't think overall maybe it was the best period we ever played, but in terms of defensive zone and taking time and space away and just pure defending, it was good."

Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman scored an empty-net goal with 30 seconds left.

"We did what we needed to do on the road and we have a chance to take three out of four on the road trip in the next couple days," Stamkos said.

The Lightning end their trip against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday; the Sabres host the Vancouver Canucks.

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