TAMPA — It was up and down and back and forth. The Lightning led. The Sabres led. The Lightning led. The Sabres led. The Lighting won. The Sabres' winning streak ended at 10 games. Neither team ever had more than a one-goal lead.
"It was kind of like a playoff atmosphere out there," defenseman Dan Girardi said after the Lightning's 5-4 win Thursday at Amalie Arena. "The fans were into it. It was very enjoyable."
Coach Jon Cooper seconded that, saying any hockey fan in the building had to be happy.
Three of those lead changes were in the first period, one of the most exciting periods the Lighting has played all season.
Girardi scored first, three minutes into the game. He pinched in and was in at the post to bang in a rebound on Alex Killorn's shot.
"Just stood in front of the net," he said. "Somehow I get down there and no one covers me. (Killorn) made a great play. I had a good look at it. The rebound sitting there, put it in."
Zemgus Girgensons redirected a shot by Rasmus Ristolainen from the point to knot it up at 1. About a minute later, Sam Reinhart scored to put the Sabres on top. Goaltender Louis Domingue got a piece of the shot, but the puck deflected up into the air and behind him.
No problem. Killorn responded to tie it up 43 seconds later. Goalie Carter Hutton left the crease to cut off J.T. Miller's angle, but the puck bounced out to Killorn, who had an open net. Nikita Kucherov scored on a beautiful shot from the slot, placed just under the crossbar in the top corner, to give the Lightning a 3-2 lead late in the first.
The rest of the lead changes weren't quite so dramatic.
The Sabres took a 4-3 lead early in the third period, and Steven Stamkos tied it back up with the first power-play goal of the game less than two minutes later. Then Cedric Paquette scored the winner with 5:41 to play.
It wasn't just all the lead changes that made it exciting, though. That first period was also one of the chippiest the Lightning has played all year.
"They're a top team in the league, winning 10 in a row," Girardi said of the Sabres. "Coming into this building, they wanted to send a message. I thought that was a really good first period for us. Really physical in each other's faces."
Girardi temporarily was a victim of that physicality. He took a hit from Buffalo's Tage Thompson that was part collision, part hit with knee-to-knee contact, and had to be helped off the ice and to the dressing room.
"I got pretty lucky," Girardi said. "My (right) knee really hurt, but it was just a little bump, and the pain went away. I got lucky I wasn't injured more."
Ryan McDonagh was less lucky. He was boarded by Buffalo's Jack Eichel in the first period, a hit made worse because it caught McDonagh already leaning forward. McDonagh went head first into the boards and left the game about the same time Girardi returned. He did not come back.
Cooper said the Lightning would know more about McDonagh's status today.
The game really picked up in physicality after the hit on McDonagh. The scrums got bigger after the whistles. Buffalo's Nathan Beaulieu was called for a 10-minute misconduct after he and Zach Bogosian hunted down Cedric Paquette at the end of the first period.
The game never got out of hand, but there was a little extra electricity running beneath the current of the game.
"Just a run-of-the-mill Tampa-Buffalo game, I guess," Cooper joked.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Girardi 2 (Killorn, Hedman), 2:59. 2, Buffalo, Girgensons 2 (Elie, Ristolainen), 8:42. 3, Buffalo, Reinhart 4 (Eichel, Bogosian), 9:45. 4, Tampa Bay, Killorn 4 (Miller), 10:28. 5, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 10 (Cernak, Point), 15:55. Penalties—Joseph, TB, (hooking), 11:44 Eichel, BUF, (boarding), 11:50; Bogosian, BUF, (cross checking), 20:00 Beaulieu, BUF, Misconduct (misconduct), 20:00.
Second Period—6, Buffalo, Reinhart 5 (Nelson, Eichel), 5:39. Penalties—Larsson, BUF, major (high sticking), 11:45.
Third Period—7, Buffalo, Thompson 4 (Mittelstadt), 2:29. 8, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 8 (Hedman, Kucherov), 4:12 (pp). 9, Tampa Bay, Paquette 5 (Palat, Sergachev), 14:19. Penalties—Larsson, BUF, (tripping), 4:05 Killorn, TB, (interference), 5:37.
Shots on Goal—Buffalo 7-5-10_22. Tampa Bay 16-9-12_37. Power-play opportunities—Buffalo 0 of 2 Tampa Bay 1 of 5.
Goalies—Buffalo, Hutton 12-7-1 (37 shots-32 saves). Tampa Bay, Domingue 9-4-0 (22-18).