Special teams once again made the difference as the Buffalo Sabres lost their season series finale against the Tampa Bay Lightning, 6-4, at KeyBank Center on Tuesday.
The Sabres led 4-1 at the 9:56 mark of the second period, then went on a power play less than two minutes later. Marcus Johansson was called for hooking with eight seconds remaining on the man advantage, giving the Lightning its fifth power play of the night.
Alex Killorn scored on that power play, kicking off a string of five unanswered goals to conclude the contest.
Video: BUF Recap: Sheary collects three points in 6-4 loss
"That penalty definitely did it, shifted the momentum," Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said. "We all know how dangerous Tampa Bay is. We never expected the game to be over at 4-1, but you sure expected to have a much more controlled situation.
"When we do get into these penalty, power play, specialty team situations, they seem to break our 5-on-5 momentum and we need to stop changing our 5-on-5 game due to the feelings on the specialty teams. It was a change in momentum against a very dangerous team, but we are to blame. We gave them more than they actually took."
Looking for their first win of the four-game season series against the Lighting, the Sabres seemed to take control through the first 30 minutes. They outshot the Lighting in the first period, 10-3, and took the lead on a goal from Conor Sheary in the final minute.
The line of Sheary, Marcus Johansson, and Jimmy Vesey continued to contribute with two more goals in the second period. The atmosphere in the building reached its peak when, with Jake McCabe serving an instigator minor, Jack Eichel turned in a highlight-reel shorthanded goal to make it 4-1.
The fact that McCabe's penalty came in defense of Eichel - he fought defenseman Mikhail Sergachev following an open-ice hit on the Sabres captain - only added to the moment.
Video: TBL@BUF: Eichel dazzles with backhanded SHG
"I think, I mean it sounds cliché, but we were just getting pucks behind them and going to work," Sheary said of the Sabres' start. "I think, with the group we have in here, we have a lot of hardworking guys and gritty guys and that's where our game's our best.
"I think we started turning the puck over and not getting it deep and I think that led to their transition."
Killorn's power-play goal came at 13:57 of the second period. Tyler Johnson scored on a breakaway less than two minutes later to cut the Sabres' lead to 4-3.
The Sabres had chances to add insurance in the opening minutes of the third period, but to no avail. Kevin Shattenkirk scored from the high slot at the 6:20 mark, followed by a second goal from Killorn that stood as the game winner less than two minutes later. Anthony Cirelli added an empty-net goal in the final seconds.
Buffalo had two power plays with a chance to tie the game in the third period but was unable to score despite long stretches of possession. The power play finished the night 0-for-4 with three shots on goal, while Tampa Bay went 2-for-5. (Ondrej Palat scored the Lightning's first goal with the extra man in the second period.)
"You could even hear it from the crowd, we definitely gotta put pucks on the net," Krueger said. "There is a lot of control, there is a lot of O-zone time there, and without shots, you're not going to get any fruit of the labor of the power play. And the shots have to hit the net, right?
"Just looks like [we're] squeezing it, trying too hard, forcing it, I'm not sure. The guys are working hard, but we're not working right in some ways. We've got to get back to the fundamentals and we've got to get back to the basics, and over and over again, and work on that until we get it going the right way."
Video: POSTGAME: Krueger
The Sabres will open 2020 with a practice at KeyBank Center on Wednesday in preparation for their next game, at home against Edmonton on Thursday. Krueger stressed the need for an honest assessment in order to respond for the home fans.
"I think more than anything it's building experience as a group together and speaking openly about these processes that are happening and not shying away from what went wrong here," he said. "Being brutally honest with each other, putting everything on the table, and then regrouping with the lessons and being better the next time it comes around.
"Over and over again, we have to continue to work for growth and keep our heads up and stick together and fight through these kinds of situations. We come out fighting here."
The Sabres continue their homestand against the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday. Coverage on MSG begins at 6:30 p.m., or you can listen to the game on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 7.