BUFFALO — The Lightning finished off 2019 on a high note within the Atlantic Division. They swept Buffalo to continue a season-high four-game win streak, all against division opponents, and moved into third place.
“You have to win these games, these are the big ones,” coach Jon Cooper said before Tuesday’s 6-4 win over Buffalo. “There’s wild cards and different scenarios to get into the playoffs, but you give yourself a chance when you win.”
Each division game carries a potential four-point swing. Some mean less, like Sunday’s win over bottom-dwelling Detroit. But the middle five teams are all within eight points.
“To win in regulation, not to give them any points (is huge),” Victor Hedman said. “We get two and we push them two more points behind us.”
They have two more division games next, in Montreal and Ottawa. The Lightning would like to keep the win streak going, but also figure out their slow starts.
They put only three shots on net in Tuesday’s first period, then gave up three goals in the second. The Lightning finished with five unanswered goals to win, but is wasn’t a perfect recipe.
“Emotionally we weren’t in the game (early),” said Alex Killorn, who scored two goals including the game-winner. “Good teams find a way to win. We didn’t have the start we wanted, but we did find a way to win.”
That win is the key point, but the Lightning had to out-score some issues, something they’re trying to rely on less this year.
Buffalo took a 4-1 lead midway through the second period, on nice play by Jack Eichel. He stripped the puck in his defensive zone, on a penalty kill no less, and then beat Kevin Shattenkirk and put an impressive backhand past goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The Lightning felt momentum turned their favor before that, when Mikhail Sergachev put a big hit on Eichel and then answered Jake McCabe’s call, dropping the gloves.
In hindsight, that play did make a big difference. But Buffalo scored on the ensuing power play, and the game could easily have continued in the Sabres’ favor at that point.
Instead, Killorn scored a power-play goal a few minutes later, and then Tyler Johnson brought the Lighting within one on a breakaway with about three minutes left. That was the goal that Cooper felt gave them more life.
The Lightning came out in the third period and added two more goals from Shattenkirk and Killorn, before Anthony Cirelli sealed the game with an empty-netter.
A fighting lesson
Luke Schenn hasn’t played a major role for the Lightning this year, but he taught a little lesson Tuesday morning.
Schenn, a veteran of 46 NHL fights, gave Erik Černák, three fights, some pointers at the end of morning skate. He demonstrated squaring off the shoulders, grabbing the jersey to face off with someone.
Černák was not the one to use those pointers in Tuesday’s game against Buffalo, though. Schenn got into a tussle with Dalton Smith, an AHL heavyweight called up for the game, that wasn’t really a fight. Then Sergachev dropped the gloves for the first time in his NHL career.
Schenn has played in 15 of the Lightning’s 38 games this season, after starting out in Syracuse. Before the game, coach Jon Cooper praised his impact on the team, though he may or may not have been talking about fighting lessons.
“I like the veteran presence he’s had,” Cooper said. “Experience is what he brings both in our locker room and on the ice. He adds toughness and is a team first guy.”
Schenn began Tuesday’s game playing with Victor Hedman as Jan Rutta is “banged up” and missed his second game. Cooper didn’t have a timeline for Rutta’s return.
The Lightning made a minor-league trade, sending forward Chris Mueller to Anaheim in exchange for defenseman Patrick Sieloff.
Sieloff has played the vast majority of his seven-year career in the AHL. He has one NHL game with each Calgary and Ottawa, but with a goal in each. The 25-year-old has played 290 AHL games with five teams in three organizations (there was a lot of shuffling in that league for a couple of years).
This season, Sieloff has played 19 games with San Diego, Anaheim’s affiliate, with one goal and 16 penalty minutes.
Mueller has also bounced around, playing for nine organizations, and this will be his second stint in San Diego. He had 23 points in 31 games for the Crunch this season.
Contact Diana C. Nearhos at email@example.com. Follow @dianacnearhos.