BUFFALO—Three times the Lightning and Sabres have met, three times they have played close games.
"In years past, you used to come in against Buffalo and you had a good chance at two points," coach Jon Cooper said. "That's not the case anymore."
The Sabres won the first meeting 2-1 in Buffalo. Then they brought their 10-game win streak into Tampa and the Lightning won 5-4, sparking its 16-game point streak.
Since then, the Sabres have dropped down in the standings. They went from neck-and-neck with Tampa Bay, to 20 points back in fifth in the Atlantic. That didn't make this game any easier. The Lightning had to come back to finish on top 5-3, but that two-goal differential only came in the final 79 seconds.
Here are some odds and ends from the Lightning's win over Buffalo:
Well that was quick. C Brayden Point got the Lightning started quickly, scoring just 26 seconds into the game. Tampa Bay slowed down after that, but it was a flashy first minute.
Holy assist, Batman. D Mikhail Sergachev is getting more and more comfortable around the net. It's not new, but he's been more successful there as of late. Sergachev pinched in low, looked like he was going to take a one-timer, faked, then sent a pass to F Ondrej Palat at the top of the crease on the Lightning's second goal.
Kucherov, who else? C Steven Stamkos picked up a turnover along the boards to set up the Lightning's third goal. He sent the puck up to RW Nikita Kucherov, who took a shot from the hashmarks. That goal tied the game back up 23 seconds after Buffalo had taken a lead.
Targeting the forward. When C Steven Stamkos and RW Nikita Kucherov enter the zone on the rush, they are usually on opposite wings. Stamkos saw an opening, though, and followed Kucherov down the right wing. There was a forward stuck defending on that side and "us forwards, we're not comfortable with that." Kucherov dropped a pass for Stamkos, who had a moment to hold it against a forward, and scored the game winner with about five minutes to go.
And one more to be sure. RW Ryan Callahan scored on a one-timer to give the Lightning an insurance goal with 1:19 to play. C Anthony Cirelli passed the puck from down near the net to the bottom of the circle and Callahan scored as he returned to the lineup.
Getting chippy at the finish. The Lightning and Sabres got a little chippy late. Some shoving in the corners, slashing at each other's sticks in the neutral zone, and the like, in a tight game between division opponents.
Fifty wins for Louis Domingue. The Lightning goalie reached the 50-win mark with Tampa Bay's win over Buffalo. He is now 50-48-8 in his NHL career.
On the plus side. D Victor Hedman was a plus-four in the game, tying a Lightning season-high for single-game plus/minus with multiple teammates.
Sitting out. D Anton Stralman and F Mathieu Joseph were healthy scratches for the first time this season. It was Stralman's first turn to sit out in the Lightning's defenseman rotation. Joseph is the first victim of the fully healthy forward group. Martel was the other scratch at forward, but has consistently been the in-case-of-injury option.
Can beat writers take part in intermission games? The Sabres host a game of Key Ball, which is basically giant Skee-Ball (and sponsored by Key Bank). In the repetitive world of intermission games, this was a good one.
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