The Buffalo Sabres don’t have to worry about facing the Tampa Bay Lightning for the rest of the regular season and they finished off the season series on a high note.
Jack Eichel and Cody Franson each picked up a goal and an assist as the Sabres downed Tampa 4-1 at Amalie Arena on Tuesday. Chad Johnson made 30 saves in net in and recorded an assist as well.
Tampa Bay had won each of the first three meetings between the clubs by a combined score of 10-3, including a 4-1 win in Buffalo on Thursday. With the four games spread out over the course of only a month, the build up to each meeting felt a bit like a Stanley Cup Playoffs series.
The Sabres were able to get off to a quick start Tuesday night and hang onto the lead against the reigning Eastern Conference champs to pick up their first win against them this season.
“We thought we did good things in this building in Game 2 against them. I thought it was a big game for our team to step up and win,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “It’s only the 10th of November, but I still thought beating the Lightning at this point in the season was a big game for us.”
Buffalo has now won four of its past five games and five of the past seven. The last time the Sabres won four out of five games was back in December 2014 when they went on a 10-3-0 run.
The win gives the Sabres a boost heading into their next game, a matchup on Thursday against the Florida Panthers.
“We’ve had some opportunities to beat this team. We haven’t been able to put them away,” Eichel said of the Lightning. “It’s great to beat them and build some confidence off that game.”
ROLL THE HIGHLIGHT FILM AGAIN
Johnson came up with 12 saves on 13 shots in the period to help keep Buffalo ahead and made 13 more in the third.
At the 2:54 mark of the second period, he made his biggest stop of the night. As Alex Killorn cut in around the net to Johnson’s right, Johnson went down and fell out of position as the puck came out into the front of the net. Diving back to his left, Johnson got a glove on Nikita Kucherov’s shot on the goal line to deny him a prime chance to score.
“He mishandled it behind the net. Now I’m scrambling and at that stage, I’m just trying to compete to try and make the save,” Johnson said. “Again, I don’t know, I just jumped over there.”
The play was reminiscent of Johnson’s other noteworthy save this year. Back on Oct. 27 in Philadelphia, he made a sprawling stop on Scott Laughton in overtime which then sprung Zemgus Girgensons for the game-winning goal.
Johnson, however, found it tough to compare the two stops.
“They’re so different,” he said. “Every game, every save is so different because the situations so I don’t know. It’s just good to get a little bit of luck every now and then.”
Buffalo started the game buzzing in the Lightning zone and that work paid off with an early power-play goal. Eichel ripped a one-timer from the top of the left faceoff circle with the man advantage to beat a stickless Andrei Vasilevskiy short side.
That opened the scoring 5:57 into the contest and with only eight seconds remaining on the power play. It was Eichel’s sixth goal of the season, his third power-play goal and first-career marker on the road.
“The puck comes back up high, I don’t think anyone was quite set yet,” Eichel recalled. “So I just wanted to get the puck on net quick.”
A QUICK RESPONSE
Tampa matched the play 52 seconds into the second period with a power play of their own. Lightning captain Steven Stamkos fired home a one-timer from almost the exact same spot Eichel did.
Franson assisted on Eichel’s goal and Eichel returned the favor to reclaim the lead quickly.
"After we gave up the goal in the second period, I liked the response from our team right after that," Bylsma said. "We come up with a big push, a good play by Jack to get to Franson for his first goal."
Just 48 seconds after Tampa, Buffalo responded to take back the lead. Cody Franson came off the bench and Eichel found him at the point. Franson’s wrist shot from 45 feet away picked the top left corner of the net to give the Sabres a 2-1 edge. The goal was Franson’s first of the season and first in a blue and gold sweater.
“That’s a big weight off the shoulders,” Franson said. “It was almost making me lose sleep at night so it’s nice to finally get that one out of the way.”
‘I’LL TAKE IT’
Marcus Foligno notched his first goal of the season to make it 3-1 at the 5:24 mark of the third period. Skating in over the blue line, Foligno threw what looked like a harmless shot high on goal. But Vasilevskiy misread the play and the puck tipped off his glove and in top shelf.
“Just get pucks on net, that’s what I was told,” Foligno said. “I just shot it and it went through. …I’ll take it.”
Rasmus Ristolainen added an empty netter from behind his own net to make it 4-1 with 36 seconds remaining. Johnson ended up picking up the assist, becoming the first Sabres goaltender to record a point since Connor Knapp had a helper back on April 13, 2014.
Special teams played heavily into the second period. Buffalo committed three penalties in the middle frame while the Lightning were called for two.
Tampa capitalized on their first opportunity of the period with the Stamkos goal but Buffalo killed off every other penalty they committed afterward, finishing 4-for-5. Buffalo didn’t give up much on Tampa’s man-advantage situations either, allowing only four shots in 7:30 of shorthanded time.
“We knew special teams were going to be a big factor in the game,” Bylsma said. “I thought our penalty kill was outstanding against a good team. Johnny was a huge part of that.”