TAMPA – With many players stepping up into bigger roles, the Buffalo Sabres put together some quality scoring chances against one of the NHL’s top teams. Unfortunately, they were unable to capitalize on them.
Buffalo ended up falling to the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-0 at Amalie Arena on Tuesday, a day after the NHL Trade Deadline passed and took some of Buffalo’s key players with it.
Anders Lindback started his first game for the Sabres after Michal Neuvirth was dealt to the New York Islanders. He made 32 saves against Tampa.
Philip Varone skated on the top line with Matt Moulson and Tyler Ennis and created some good offensive pressure. Marcus Foligno was a force for most of the night on the second line with center Johan Larsson and captain Brian Gionta.
Sabres coach Ted Nolan was worried about his team’s focus heading into the game in the wake of the deadline, but held strong in the first period, generating a strong forecheck and creating some good opportunities of their own.
However, the Lightning finally got on the board with 3:23 remaining when Steven Stamkos put one home during an extended shift in the Buffalo zone.
“They’re very frustrated with what’s happened the last couple days. They lost a lot of close friends and what have you. Emotionally, they were down but I thought for 60 minutes during the hockey game, they forgot about it and worked,” Nolan said.
Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped all 28 shots Buffalo fired his way. Ryan Callahan and Victor Hedman also scored for Tampa.
PENALTY TROUBLE AGAIN
The Sabres started the second period shorthanded when Rasmus Ristolainen took a hooking penalty 1:19 into the period. He was joined in the box by Andrej Meszaros shortly thereafter to put Tampa on a 53-second 5-on-3. Twenty-one seconds later, Callahan put Tampa up 2-0 on a feed in front from Tyler Johnson.
Then with three seconds remaining in Meszaros’ penalty, the Lightning capitalized with a wrist shot from the right wing by Hedman. Buffalo was outshot 17-4 in the second period.
“I think we created some chances early on and we got in some penalty trouble that cost us,” alternate captain Matt Moulson said. “We have to keep creating chances and capitalize. He made some pretty big stops today, but I think you just have to find that consistency and keep creating.”
In the last week, Buffalo has now had three games in which they either took a lot of penalties or the other team’s power play changed the game. The Lightning went 2-for-2 with the man advantage on Tuesday with six shots in 3:05 of power-play time.
“The penalty issue has been one of our issues for the majority of the year and it starts with when we go in our zone, we lose our faceoffs,” Nolan said. “Tonight, four of our center icemen are from the Rochester Americans against one of the top teams in the League. It was tough but overall, I thought we played as well as we could.”
A BUSY DEBUT
The game marked Lindback’s first start since Feb. 7 when he played against the Sabres as a member of the Dallas Stars. He was acquired along with a conditional third-round puck in a trade on Feb. 11 for goalie Jhonas Enroth, but didn’t see any action because the coaches decided to ride Neuvirth’s hot hand.
He finally got his first shot Tuesday night.
“I felt like I was patient at times when I needed to be, too,” Lindback said. “I’m going to watch the game over again, but overall, I felt pretty good out there. But obviously I can’t be happy with a 3-0 loss.”
Buffalo had been getting strong goaltending for most of the season from Enroth and Neuvirth. Lindback impressed his teammate’s with his performance as well.
“He was terrific for us,” Meszaros said. “He made some key saves, especially in the first period. It was back and forth. We had chances; they had chances. He kept us in the game.”
Varone ended up playing a career-high 18:59 of ice time while Larsson logged a season-high 16:14. Each recorded a pair of shots. Tim Schaller, who was recalled Tuesday morning from the Amerks, centered the third line.
“This Is the team going forward for the next 18 games. No one’s going to feel sorry for us,” Foligno said. “These guys have to chip in. Everyone’s got to step up their game. We’re going to have guys who have more ice time than usual so it’s an exciting time for those guys to show what they’ve got.”
STEPPING UP, DROPPING THE GLOVES
After newly acquired Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn laid a big hit on Sabres captain Brian Gionta late in the second, Foligno decided to stick up for his teammate and try to shift the momentum of the game.
Foligno and Coburn dropped the gloves for a spirited bout between the two heavyweights.
“It’s just an answer that I think I needed to do to show that we’re not going to back down from teams and we’re not going to try to get outworked,” Foligno said. “It was another hit on a player. I just thought that maybe it was time to answer. I thought it was a pretty physical fist and a little bit of the second. I just thought we needed some grit and it was good to get that one out of the way.”
Foligno, who broke his hand in a fight on Dec. 21 – coincidentally defending another hit on Gionta – said there were no ill effects to his hand in this bout.
The Sabres will come home before heading out for a set of back-to-back games this weekend. They’ll play in Ottawa on Friday and then in Washington against the Capitals on Saturday.
Friday’s game is slated for 7:30 p.m. with the Tops Game Night pregame show starting at 7 p.m. on MSG-B and Bell. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.