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Vasilevskiy Dazzles, Bolts Take Sabres In Shootout

The Tampa Bay Lightning (29-26-8) faced a divisional rival in the Buffalo Sabres (27-26-11) tonight as they continued their pursuit for a fleeting playoff spot. Having knocked heads twice this season, these teams found themselves separated by just a single point as they headed into tonight’s tilt. Did the Bolts gain some separation or had Buffalo succeeded in their game of leap frog? Let’s take a look back o the action and see how it unfolded.

First Period: The puck was dropped in the KeyBank Center and game number 64 for the Lightning was underway. Through the first half of this period, both teams played the fastest hot potato game on ice as neither could dominate the other for extended periods of time. The Lightning held puck possession, but the stingy defense of Buffalo prevented them from invading the Sabres’ defensive zone. It was a human-sized stalemate.

However, the second half was an entirely different story. It was all Buffalo, as after an exceptionally long shift in the Tampa Bay zone, they began to carry momentum. Their tightened style of play earned them a power play as Bolts forward Nikita Kucherov was called for hooking at 19:39. It would just take seconds for Buffalo’s highly-ranked power play to cash in with a Ryan O’Reilly slap shot that beat Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy with eleven seconds left in the first.

Second Period: The Lightning would not be handled lightly to start the second. They returned to the ice with an extra step to their game and were rewarded early with a goal from forward Tyler Johnson at 2:37 to tie the game. This was the result of defenseman Victor Hedman’s keen eye as he zoned in on a waiting Johnson by the Buffalo net. He fed Johnson cleanly for the tip-in tally.

With the early surge by the Lighting in the rear view mirror, both clubs once again found themselves in an exciting game of tug-o-war. Buffalo received a brief chance as Tampa Bay coughed up another power play opportunity. This time the Lightning were able to keep the Sabres rush at bay and take this one tied going into the third period.

Third Period: The final period of regulation play was the very definition of a goaltender duel. Loose pucks in the crease, sprawling saves, and desperation dives were performed at both ends of the ice only to frustrate the players. If you went into this game thinking two points meant nothing to these teams, you were quickly humbled. With the way these clubs fought, this game would not be decided in the third. It’s had overtime written all over it.

Overtime: Due to a late call, the Sabres started overtime with a man advantage for a little over a minute. It would take a miracle to thwart the  third-best power play in the league, but the hockey gods answered and the Lightning not only escaped, but were rewarded their own advantage. Unfortunately, nothing would come from it and we would carry over to a shootout.

It would be the trickery of Kucherov and the flash of Brayden Point that ended this one as they scored after Vasilevskiy denied both Buffalo shooters. The Lightning claimed two very big points and left the KeyBank Center with heads held high.

“That’s a schoolyard move for sure. A special player can do special things. You better score on that and he did.” – Coach Jon Cooper, on Kucherov’s magic trick goal

Three Stars of The Game:

  1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, 31 saves, win
  2. Robin Lehner, 31 saves
  3. Tyler Johnson, goal

Next up: Tampa Bay Lightning (30-26-8) vs. New York Rangers (41-21-2) on Monday night at 7:30pm at Amalie Arena in Tampa.

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