BUFFALO — The Lightning left KeyBank Center Monday night feeling pretty lucky to escape with a 6-5 overtime win over the Sabres, rallying from two goals down in the final six minutes of regulation to force the extra session before claiming victory on Steven Stamkos’ arena-silencing winner in overtime.
The Lightning’s stars led the way, pulling them out of a third-period hole on a night when they probably didn’t deserve the two points they earned against a Sabres team that outplayed them for most of the game.
Tampa Bay’s postgame flight to Boston, where the Lightning will get a rematch Tuesday with a Bruins team that exposed their flaws a week ago, normally would be much more upbeat coming off a victory.
But they knew this was no way to win.
“It wasn’t our night in a lot of areas, probably because we didn’t deserve it to be,” said Stamkos, whose three-point night gave him 998 career points. “That was just lack of execution; they were just a step ahead of us in certain areas.
“But we were down two late in the third and we found a way to come back, so it’s a win that you can build off of. But it can’t be a win that you feel great about. You feel good about it because you got it, but there needs to be some areas to improve.”
The Lightning (13-7-1) allowed 22 high-danger scoring chances, including 11 in a first period that saw them get outshot 14-4. Their 5-on-5 game sputtered, but three power-play goals allowed them to stay in the game, including Brandon Hagel’s tying goal with 2:02 remaining in regulation (with a 6-on-4 man advantage with goaltender Brian Elliott pulled).
“I think we were moving the puck quick, and our retrievals were good,” said center Brayden Point, who scored two power-play goals. “A lot of times this year we’ve had PPs where it’s almost one shot and goes down the ice, and in fact (Monday) we had a way better job of hounding those pucks and retrieving them and we were able to tire the PK down with those extended shifts.”
Nikita Kucherov had the primary assist on all three Lightning power-play goals. On Hagel’s tying goal, Kucherov’s initial shot from the right circle went wide, but Tampa Bay kept the puck alive, cycled it around and Kucherov launched a one-timer from the same spot that deflected off Hagel’s leg into the back of the net.
The Sabres (9-12-1) went up 5-3 when Jeff Skinner’s tight-angle shot from below the right circle beat Elliott short side over his left shoulder with 5:41 left in regulation. Stamkos answered 16 seconds later, cleaning up a loose puck in front after Alex Killorn drove to the net to make it a one-goal game.
Kucherov was booed after the crowd thought he exaggerated a high-sticking call on Buffalo defenseman Mattias Samuelsson by emphatically flinging off his gloves in the second period. In the third, Kucherov collided with Sabres goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen in the crease. He was jumped by Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, leading to a dogpile in front of the net and matching penalties that resulted in 4-on-4 hockey.
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In overtime, Stamkos won a defensive-zone faceoff and Nick Paul pushed the puck into the offensive zone. Paul drew two Buffalo skaters to him before dropping a pass to Stamkos at the top of the right circle, where he had a clear shot to beat Luukkonen.
“I was yelling for the puck, and (Paul) made a great play to bring those two guys to him and I got a lane to walk in and just picked up the far side,” Stamkos said. “It’s was nice to see that one go in.”
Elliott, who won his fifth straight start to improve to 20-4-2 against Buffalo, kept Tampa Bay in the game despite allowing five goals. He stopped the first 12 shots he faced and made five saves in overtime before Stamkos scored on the Lightning’s first shot on goal of the extra session.
Through 21 games, the Lightning have won seven in which they were tied or trailing after two periods and four of the five games that have gone to overtime. Though pleased with the outcome, Lightning coach Jon Cooper said he wasn’t happy with how his team got there.
“We’re a process-driven team, and it wasn’t a part of our process,” Cooper said. “It’s not the type of hockey we want to play, and we’re not going to get away with it in this league doing what we did (Monday). We got the breaks in the end to pull us back. Some big-time players got us back into it.
“It’s a damn tough league to win in, so you’re happy you got two points. But if we continue to play like that on the road trip, it’s going to be tough sledding for us.”
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