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Lightning journal: Mikhail Sergachev in rare territory for rookie defensemen

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98) celebrates his goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres, Tuesday Nov. 28, 2017, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes) NYJB108
Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98) celebrates his goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres, Tuesday Nov. 28, 2017, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes) NYJB108
Published Nov. 29, 2017

BOSTON — Lightning C Tyler Johnson said his pass on Tuesday's first-period power play against the Sabres was definitely a hard one.

But Johnson had faith that rookie D Mikhail Sergachev could handle it while sliding to the top of the left circle.

"He has of the best, if not the best, shot on our team from there," Johnson said.

That's high praise, especially on a team that includes star snipers Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. And Sergachev cashed in, ripping a one-timer past G Robin Lehner to give the Lightning the lead for good in a 2-0 victory.

Of Sergachev's six goals this season, four have been winners. Only three rookie defensemen in NHL history have scored more than four winners in a season: Dion Phaneuf (seven in 2005-06), Gord Fraser (five in 1926-27) and Shayne Gostisbehere (five in 2015-16).

"(Sergachev has) tremendous offensive instincts, an unbelievable shot," D Victor Hedman said. "To see him get rewarded is always fun. He's earning his breaks, too. He's been working hard in practice every day since camp started."

Sergachev said that his coaches trusting him gives him confidence and they've put him in positions to succeed. Coach Jon Cooper has managed Sergachev's minutes and matchups, pairing him with veteran Anton Stralman, while also using his strengths on the second power-play unit.

"With his young age (19), to have those offensive gifts that he has, he's got a high ceiling," Cooper said.

"You put the puck in his wheelhouse and he can shoot it, and that's what he did (Tuesday)."

On the board

Veteran D Dan Girardi (left) joked to D Victor Hedman before Tuesday's game that it would be a good night to get his first goal with Tampa Bay.

With Girardi growing up about an hour and a half away, in Welland, Ontario, he had between 20 and 25 friends and family in the stands at KeyBank Arena. And he scored on a shot from the point in the second period, his shot deflecting off a Sabres defenseman.

Girardi's teammates collected the puck as a memento.

"He's just a great team guy, a phenomenal guy. It was huge to see him get it," Hedman said.

Slap shots

• G Andrei Vasilevskiy started the 2-1 loss to the Bruins on Wednesday, giving him starts in both ends of the back-to-back games. It wasn't surprising. The Lightning doesn't play again until Saturday, and Vasilevskiy's previous start before Tuesday was Friday, so three games in eight days isn't too much for him.

• D Slater Koekkoek had played well in three straight games but was scratched as the Lightning went back to a 12 forward-six defensemen lineup (RW J.T. Brown returned). Clearly, the coaching staff doesn't see a big gap between Koekkoek and Andrej Sustr, who scored the Lightning's first goal against the Bruins. And with Jake Dotchin out, Sustr is another right-shot defenseman who can play on the penalty kill. Would, however, like to see Koekkoek play in a half-dozen or so games in a row to see what he can do.

• The Lightning, which arrived at 1 a.m. from Buffalo, got a rude wakeup call around 9:30 a.m. when the emergency alarm went off at their hotel. Fire trucks came, but it turned out to be a false alarm.

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