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Hard-fought game ends with SO loss to Lightning

Kulikov leaves with injury; Eichel extends streak

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

It's been over two months since the Buffalo Sabres last had to compete in a shootout, but their struggles in the area remained against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night. A competitive, hard-fought game through 65 minutes in the end came down to four shots: two makes for Tampa Bay, and two misses for Buffalo.

Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov scored on back-to-back shootout attempts against Sabres goalie Robin Lehner while Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel's shots were stoned by Andrei Vasilevskiy, sealing a 2-1 victory for the Lightning at KeyBank Center. With the loss, the Sabres fell to 1-6 in shootouts this season. 

Video: BUF Recap: Sabres earn point in 2-1 SO loss to Bolts

"We practice it enough," Reinhart said. "No matter how long you go in between, that's not that big of an issue. We were prepared going into it. At that point, it's a toss-up, but it's frustrating. We've have to be better at it.

Goals have certainly been hard to come by the Sabres in the shootout - they're 3-for-17 this season - and it's been compounded by Lehner's struggles in the area. The goalie has been outstanding for the Sabres this season - he made 31 saves on Saturday - but he's 0-for-8 on shootout attempts.

"There's not a lot of ways to look at it," Bylsma said. "Tonight's a great example, he was outstanding in the game … He got us the point in the game. He's got a bit of a riddle, mystery about the shootout."

Both teams had their share of chances to break a 1-1 tie and win the game in regulation, and both also had 4-on-3 power-play opportunities in overtime. The Sabres got theirs when Marcus Foligno drew an interference call with 45 seconds remaining in the third period, and the Lightning got their own attempt when Zemgus Girgensons was called for the same offense 1:47 into overtime.

Buffalo's penalty kill, which has only allowed one goal in its last nine games, came up big against the League's top power play, and the Sabres got their best chance to win the game and prevent a shootout on a draw shortly after. Jack Eichel won a faceoff in the defensive zone and immediately drove up the ice, looking to create a 2-on-1 rush with Evander Kane. 

Thanks to their speed, it almost worked. On one side, Eichel skated past Victor Hedman, leaving Hedman to reach around him with his stick from behind. Eichel still got a pass across the crease to Kane, who just missed being able to connect as he had a defender draped over him as well. 

Both players thought that penalties had been committed against them, and the crowd appeared to agree based on its reaction when nothing was called. 

"There wasn't much time," Kane said. "I knew Jack was going to try to slide it over and kind of got mugged there. I felt like I got my wallet stolen. That's what I saw and felt and probably what 19,000 other people saw."

In Eichel's case, Bylsma said he was hoping for a call, but also said that non-calls are part of the star treatment Eichel's beginning to receive.

"I think the great players, a lot of times, they get a lot of attention," Bylsma said. "They don't call it every time a stick hits Jack even though it feels like maybe it should be. That's kind of the mark of being a very good player in this League is they don't always give you [a penalty] every time a stick touches you."

Ryan O'Reilly scored Buffalo's only goal on the power play with 11.2 seconds remaining in the first period, beating Vasilevskiy beneath the glove with a hard one-time shot from the right faceoff circle. It was the same shot in the same area that O'Reilly used to score a goal on Thursday, and the same area he spent practicing one-timers after Buffalo's morning skate on Saturday.

Video: TBL@BUF: O'Reilly blasts a PPG to open the scoring

Tyler Johnson tied the game for Tampa Bay 2:37 into the second period when he tapped in a pass from Hedman at the back door. 

Like the score, the rest of the game was rather even. Shots were 32-32, and both teams generated their share of offense in the second and third periods.

"That's the frustrating part," Reinhart said. "We had our opportunities, we had our chances. I felt like we came out the way we wanted to and I thought we were better at not letting up in the second and third. Obviously they played a little bit better, they came at us a little bit too, but I thought that part of our game was better.

"It's a little frustrating not being able to capitalize."


Kulikov leaves with injury

Dmitry Kulikov left the game with an upper-body injury in the first period after being checked hard into the boards behind the Buffalo net and did not return. Bylsma had no further update after the game.

A bone bruise in his lower back has forced Kulikov to miss time at three separate points this season, limiting him to 39 games overall. He entered Saturday two points (1+1) and an average ice time of 21:56. 


Eichel's streak keeps going

By earning the secondary assist on O'Reilly's goal, Eichel extended his point streak to a career-best nine games. He has two goals and 10 assists during that stretch, which is the longest active point streak in the NHL, and he leads the League with 20 points (3+17) since Feb. 1.

Eichel's point streak is the longest by a Sabre since Tim Connolly tallied points in 16 straight games during the 2009-10 season, according to @SabresPR

You can read more about Eichel's recent stretch and how it fits in a historical context in our practice report from Friday.


Up next

The Sabres hit the road after the game and will play Sunday evening against the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena. Buffalo won the first matchup between these two teams 2-1 in a shootout on Nov. 20 behind Anders Nilsson's 46-save performance. 

Coverage on Sunday begins at 4:30 p.m. with the Tops Pregame Show on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WRG 550. The puck drops between the Sabres and Penguins at 5 p.m.

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