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Playoff Mindset in Hiding for Lightning in Loss to Buffalo

Scrum Sports phot by Wayne Masut

Playing out the final week of the regular NHL season, saw the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Buffalo Sabres. As the playoffs approach, the Sabres are on the outside looking in and tee times are being set. For the Lightning, they are in. They will begin the postseason in the first wild card position. Their first round opponent has not officially been determined but appears it will be the Boston Bruins. Before the playoff madness begins this weekend, there are still two games to play. The Lightning need to get in that playoff mindset tonight against Boston and then Wednesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. There are some personal milestones that could be reached this week. 

With two more goals in these last two games, Nikita Kucherov will hit 45. Two more assists and he’ll end up with 100. One more goal and one more assist for Steven Stamkos and he finishes the season with 40 in each category. One more assist and Brayden Point ends with 45 for the year and it’ll also give him 90 total points. Hitting these milestones and the Bolts will be playing like a team wants heading into the playoffs. Tonight begins the final two legs of the marathon known as the regular season.

Need To Set The Tone

If the Lightning want to turn around their recent malaise (2-2-1 in their last five) it needs to start tonight. Getting off to a good start is part of this recipe. Sometimes, it can be challenging playing a team with absolutely nothing to lose. Not only are the Sabres out of the playoff equation, tonight is their last game of the season. What better way to end a non-postseason season than beating a confirmed playoff team? Not even 90 seconds into the game, the Sabres light the lamp. The opposite of the start the Lightning needed and wanted. 

Dylan Cozens found a rebound and half an open net. He didn’t miss and the Sabres opened the scoring. There is still 95% of the game left to play but some urgency should be noticeable. Through the middle of the period, the Bolts dictated play. By the time the first period came to an end, the Lightning had 16 shots on goal to Buffalo’s 9 shots. Sabres still enjoying the 1 – 0 lead. Goalie Eric Comrie was standing on his head for Buffalo in the first period. The Lightning need to figure him out for at least two tonight. 

Don’t Hide Your Playoff Mindset 

At the start of the second period, the Lightning had a little over 30 seconds left on a power play. Didn’t matter. They struggled just getting the puck in Buffalo’s zone. Despite the ineffective power play, there was a noticeable spark in the play of the Lightning. Two minutes later, it paid dividends. 

After Kucherov took the puck away from Rasmus Dahlin right in front of the Sabres net, he passed to Stamkos. Stamkos wristed the puck past Comrie to tie the game at one. Their playoff mindset is intact. No sooner did they tie the game but now Buffalo put the Bolts back on the power play. You could almost feel a goal.

The feeling of the impending goal was correct. The team that scored was not. Cozens, working on the Sabres penalty kill, scored a shorthanded goal to give Buffalo a 2 – 1 lead. Now, the game is half over and the Lightning are chasing it. This is the challenge in playing a team with nothing to lose. They are only playing for pride and that can be a hell of a motivator. Sure enough Jordan Greenway added the visitor’s third goal. At the end of two periods, Buffalo leads 3 – 1. Their playoffs seem to be tonight and they are the only team in Amalie Arena that is playing with that mindset. 

Put Up or Shut Up 

Down two goals heading into the third period isn’t completely insurmountable. That said, Comrie was the star so far in this game. If the Lightning had any hopes of getting the win tonight, they needed to score the next goal. Erik Cernak heard the call. His slapshot found the net about halfway through the final period put the Lightning within one goal. 

To their credit, Buffalo never flinched. It took them 15 seconds to stake back their two goal lead.Zach Benson tapped in a gimme to make it 4-2 Buffalo. There was a little bit of fight left in the Lightning but nothing that showed up on the score sheet. Just missing a little of that playoff mindset. 

Three Stars 

  1. Eric Comrie – Buffalo’s goaltender played a great game stopping Saving 27 of the 29 shots he faced. Was the difference in the game.
  2. Dylan Cozens – 2 goals and an assist
  3. Steven Stamkos – One goal, his 40th of the season. It’s the 7th time he’s hit that mark in his career.

What’s Next 

Final regulation game on Wednesday night at Amalie Arena against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Puck drops at 7:00 pm.


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