Carter Hutton had earned a favor from the goal post, even if he didn't necessarily need it.
Hutton had already made 29 saves by the time Nikita Kucherov caught a pass from Steven Stamkos in the dying seconds of the Buffalo Sabres' game against Tampa Bay on Tuesday night. Kucherov, as dangerous a goal scorer as any, ripped one last shot in desperation.
The sound of the puck ringing the goal post was followed by the roar of the buzzer, putting the finishing touches on a 2-1 win for the Sabres, but Hutton felt he was in position to make the save regardless.
"I think it hit the outside of the post anyways," the goaltender said afterward.
Video: Hutton, Sabres hold off Lightning, 2-1
It would have been of one more great save in an evening full of them. The Sabres have won in a multitude of ways this season, and the same is true of their current three-game win streak. They had to battle from behind and score a total of 10 goals to earn wins in their last two games, against Montreal and Vancouver.
Against the Atlantic Division leading Lightning, they needed a big night from their goalie to protect a one-goal lead. Hutton delivered, helping the Sabres weather the storm during a second period in which they were outshot 14-2.
"This league's so tough to win in," forward Jeff Skinner said. "I think the margin for error's so small that some nights you're going to have to sort of grind one out maybe you don't deserve to win. … Hutts played a pretty big game for us and he got us a win.
"Sometimes you need a goalie to steal you one and I think he did that tonight for us."
Skinner opened the scoring for Buffalo at the 17:45 mark of the first period, burying the rebound of a shot from newly-promoted linemate Sam Reinhart. The Sabres fed off that goal and managed to control much of the period, evident in their 21-16 edge in shot attempts.
Kyle Okposo extended the lead 5:43 into the second, but it didn't last long. Alex Killorn lofted a pass behind the Buffalo defense to set Anthony Cirelli loose for a breakaway goal 13 seconds later, prompting a push from a Tampa Bay team that entered the night with a league-leading 3.65 goals per game.
Video: TBL@BUF: Okposo beats Domingue along the ice
The Lightning dominated the period from that point on, but Hutton kept the door shut. He made one of the saves of the night when Mathieu Joseph shot alone from the slot in the third, only to outdo himself with a glove save on Killorn a minute later.
Video: TBL@BUF: Hutton makes glove save on Killorn
"They're a top team in this league, but we didn't manage that part of the game," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "We had opportunities to get pucks in deep and we needed to get our D off the ice. We didn't manage that part of our game and they came right back at us. They sort of smelled blood there, but we held it together."
Hutton was less relieved than he was excited when Tampa Bay came up empty on a mad scramble to end the game.
"Truthfully, you embrace the battle," he said. "… That's kind of like scoring a goal for me, the battle at the end and competing. You get to show what you're made of and it was fun. I think all the guys blocking shots, battling - it was a free-for-all, it was fun though."
Afterward, the Sabres were left balancing the fact that they had won three games in a row - including two against first-place teams - with the feeling that they hadn't played their best in any of them. That awareness alone could be seen as another sign of progress for a team that had just won its 10th game and moved within three points of Tampa for the division lead.
Okposo laughed when asked if he could imagine complaining about a three-game win streak a year ago.
"Yeah, probably not," he said. "But our standard's higher this year. We've got to play to our identity. We know that we're a really, really good hockey team when we do that.
"Hey, we're finding ways to win. Guys are making plays, which is great. That's a sign of a good hockey team is finding ways to win and having that confidence and becoming a good team."
Video: TBL@BUF: Skinner backhands puck past Domingue
Skinner finished the game with sole possession of second place in the NHL with 13 goals this season, three behind Boston's David Pastrnak. Reinhart tallied the primary assist, giving him seven points in his last five games.
Conor Sheary tallied the primary assist on Okposo's goal, giving him five points (3+2) in his last five games.
The Sabres begin a three-game road trip in Winnipeg on Friday. Coverage on MSG-B begins at 7:30 p.m. with the GMC Game Night pregame show, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 8.