TAMPA BAY - In a way, the Tampa Bay Lightning's 4-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night began as it ended: with the Sabres shorthanded, and Evander Kane serving a penalty he very well might not have deserved.
Kane was in the box for hooking when Ondrej Palat scored a 5-on-3 goal for Tampa Bay 5:37 into the contest, erasing the 1-0 lead Matt Moulson had already earned for the Sabres. Kane called that penalty "questionable," an opinion supported by the video replay.
In the third period, Kane had scored to bring the Sabres within one goal when he was called for his second, third and fourth penalties all at once, this time for a high stick against Lightning goalie Ben Bishop. Kane received two minutes for the high stick and two more for unsportsmanlike conduct in addition to a 10-minute misconduct.
With 2:17 remaining and the Sabres now shorthanded for four minutes, the call effectively ended their comeback chances in what was then a 3-2 game. Sabres coach Dan Bylsma thought Kane's high stick came on the follow through of his shot, another opinion supported by video replay, and one Kane himself echoed when he spoke after the game.
"I've only played eight years in the League but I'm pretty sure on a follow-through it doesn't matter if you high stick a player or the goalie, especially when the goalies on his knees, your stick comes up and I guess is lifted by one of their defensemen," Kane said. "I guess I was a little confused."
Those controversial calls seemed to bookend the loss for the Sabres, but they weren't the only reason Buffalo saw its four-game point streak snapped on Thursday. After coming out of the first period with a 1-1 tie, the Sabres allowed two goals in the second, one to Palat on a rebound off the pad of Anders Nilsson and another on a 3-on-2 rush play that saw Tampa Bay's two All-Stars, Victor Hedman and Nikita Kucherov., connect.
"Their transition game, their speed in the second period was really evident," Bylsma said. "They capitalize on us on a forecheck where we gave it to the goalie and then they turned it into a 3-on-2 back the other way, Hedman jumps up and that was the type of game we expected them to play."
"We weren't moving our feet," Sabres captain Brian Gionta said. "We weren't doing a good job accepting their speed and we couldn't conversely get anything going on our forecheck. When we got the puck we weren't moving, supporting each other, but we just could never get our feet moving."
The game followed a familiar narrative, one in which the Sabres struggled to the point of desperation before they finally flipped the switch. You could see the tides turning even prior to Kane's goal in the third period, when Jack Eichel and Marcus Foligno produced two of Buffalo's best scoring chances.
It was Eichel who fed Kane in the slot for his 11th goal of the season with 9:30 remaining, putting Kane one goal shy of the team lead.
Video: BUF@TBL: Kane scores after Bishop loses stick in 3rd
"I think we made a few line adjustments and I thought we started working better in the third period," Kane said. "That's what we have to do, that goal starts from both D pinching down the walls, not giving them easy breakouts, being aggressive, making an aggressive mistake if you're going to make one. We need to do that throughout the whole game, not just when we get down. It's a mindset and the way we have to play."
While the Sabres may have been right to be unhappy with the penalties that were called against them, they squandered their own power-play opportunities at pivotal moments of the game. The Sabres were 0-for-4 with the extra man, including one opportunity in the opening minute of the third period and another that came when Bishop was called for a delay of game just 11 seconds after Kane scored.
"We struggled getting it into the zone," Gionta said. "When we did we had some good chances, some good looks. We just didn't capitalize."
A regulation win would have pushed the Sabres past the Lightning in the Atlantic Division standings; instead they now trail by three points, and wins for Ottawa and Philadelphia did them no favors either. In the end, it was that missed opportunity that left the Sabres more upset than anything.
"That's the biggest disappointment of the game," Bylsma said. "We've won some games recently and gathered some points, we have a chance to pass a team in the standings tonight and miss that opportunity. That's something we're going to have to put behind us here pretty immediately and get to the task of playing Carolina tomorrow."
Moulson notches his ninth
The Sabres certainly got the start they wanted when Taylor Fedun, Zemgus Girgensons and Moulson connected for the game's first goal just 2:58 into the contest. Fedun lofted a high-arching pass from the defensive zone, freeing Girgensons and Moulson on a 2-on-1 break. Girgensons, with one hand on his stick, made a perfect feed across to Moulson, who roofed his ninth goal of the season.
Video: BUF@TBL: Girgensons sets up Moulson for an early goal
"I don't think Zemgus knew where I was," Moulson said. "I was kind of yelling at him telling him I was right in front him."
The Sabres will conclude their back-to-back road set with a game against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena on Friday night. It will be the third of three matchups between the two teams, with Carolina having come out as the winner in both of the first two.
Coverage on Friday begins at 7 p.m. with the Tops Pregame Show on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops between the Sabres and Hurricanes at 7:30.