TAMPA – Though they were on the wrong end of the score sheet, the Buffalo Sabres didn’t back down from a fight Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
A series of scrums and fights highlighted the third period of Tampa’s 5-0 win at Amalie Arena. The two teams combined for 110 penalty minutes in the game.
The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for Buffalo. They’re now 6-2-0 in their past eight games.
“We just got off our game a little bit,” Sabres center Zemgus Girgensons said. “We got a little bit unlucky on some of those goals. It’s just about us not doing the things we’ve done.”
Sabres coach Nolan said he would have liked to see the team stick to playing a simpler, north-south game similar to the one that allowed them to pick up some victories. The Sabres had beaten the Lightning in a shootout on Tuesday at First Niagara Center.
“We just lost track of what we need to do in order to be successful,” he said. “We stopped hitting, we stopped skating. We were doing a lot of pirouettes in center ice. It got away from us in that second period.”
Coming out of the first period, the Sabres were down 1-0 and were being outshot 8-5. Buffalo felt good about where they were in the game but they unraveled in the second, surrendering three goals and generating very little offensive zone time. They managed only three shots on goal in the middle frame.
“We put it into their hands and they’ve got a good team,” Sabres forward Marcus Foligno said. “When you turn over pucks at crucial spots – it was definitely tough to see them respond in the second and to be down to a team that we thought we were really close with:”
Ben Bishop made 13 saves in the win while Jhonas Enroth stopped 30 shots for Buffalo.
At the 7:54 mark of the third period, matters started to heat up. A net front battle between Mike Weber and Steven Stamkos involved into a scrum in the right wing corner of the Buffalo zone. Stamkos was called for slashing and Weber challenged him. Tyson Strachan dropped the gloves with Brett Connolly as the players started to pair off.
Then about one minute later, Girgensons chipped the puck into the Tampa zone down the right wing. Just inside the blue line, he was clipped low by Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman. Sabres defenseman Nikita Zadorov immediately came to his teammate’s defense, grappling with Hedman.
“I checked the puck by and it wasn’t too dirty but it was late and good thing he’s a big guy or that would’ve been a really low hit,” Girgensons said of the play.
As Girgensons got back up on his feet, he became engaged in a fight with Cedric Paquette. Girgensons received the first fighting major of his career.
Zadorov and Hedman received two-minute minors and 10-minute misconducts.
“I just stood up for my teammate,” Zadorov said. “He got hit late and you can’t do that. If you want to finish the game with no problem, don’t do that. I was just doing my job.”
Then with 8:35 remaining, more penalties were called. Cody McCormick cross checked Jonathan Drouin from behind. McCormick was slapped with a two-minute cross-checking minor and a 10-minute misconduct.
Simultaneously, Brian Boyle and Patrick Kaleta were exchanging words in front of the Buffalo bench, which resulted in Boyle dropping his gloves and Kaleta taking a swing at him.
Both Boyle and Kaleta left the game with 10-minute misconducts. Lightning forward Brenden Morrow was also given a 10-minute misconduct.
“At least we showed some fight in the third,” Nolan said. “Our first was OK. Our second was awful. And then in the third, at least we battled back a little bit.”
In all, Buffalo received 58 penalty minutes while the Lightning served 52 minutes in the box. Tampa’s power play finished 1-for-6; Buffalo went 0-for-3 with the man advantage.
Most notably dating back to the game in St. Louis on Nov. 11 when Tyler Ennis was hit late and from behind while going in on a scoring chance, the Sabres have shown signs that they’re willing to stand up for one another when the situation calls for it. Zadorov was one of the first players to stand up for Ennis in that game.
“It’s great when you see that,” Zadorov said. “All the boys were stepping up for each other, helping each other. We’re teammates and we’re going to keep doing that because we have great guys here.”
Buffalo will be back to work on Friday when they practice at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida. Their next game is scheduled for Saturday night against the Florida Panthers.