The Tampa Bay Lightning took a two point lead in the Atlantic Division by scoring three goals in the third period & beating the Buffalo Sabres 7-5 on Friday Night at Amalie Arena. Right Wing Nikita Kucherov had a goal & assist to become the second NHL player to reach 100 points this year, while Center Alex Killorn collected three assists.
Tampa Bay Head Coach Jon Cooper started a line of Yanni Gourde, Killorn & rookie Anthony Cirelli. And whether Cooper had a premonition or not, the move played dividends 30 seconds in, when the rookie, while in the slot, took a pass from Gourde & buried a shot past Sabres Goalie Chad Johnson. The goal was Cirelli's fourth of the year since being called up in early March. But before the Lightning could kill a delay of game penalty on Defenseman Victor Hedman, the Sabres tied the game at one after their rookie Center Casey Mittlestadt beat Lightning Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Tampa Bay grabbed another one goal lead after Kucherov came away from the left circle with the puck & scored his 39th goal unassisted. But just like their previous deficit Buffalo got a goal from another rookie. This time Left Wing Alexander Nylander tied the score up with just under seven minutes gone in the first period.
It took over three minutes but Tampa Bay got their third goal of the period when Gourde took a pass from Killorn & found himself all alone between the circles & beat the Sabres goalie for his first goal since March 6th. The goal was also Gourde's 25th, which sets a new franchise rookie record.
Tampa Bay ended the opening period with a 13-9 shots on goal lead. And one minute into the second period, the Lightning lead jumped to two when Defenseman Dan Girardi took a blast from the blue line that got through Johnson's pads, for his sixth goal of the year. And after taking that 4-2 lead, the Lightning had a chance to pad the lead after Gourde put a clean hit on Sabres Defenseman Marco Scandella, who reacted by pushing Gourde to the ice & throwing punches at the back of Gourde's head. Scandella got a double minor but the Lightning could only get two shots on net during those four minutes. And whether it energized the visiting team or not, Buffalo got within one goal after Defenseman Jason Pominville's shot from the point made it through a few bodies in front of Vasilevskiy & inside the post for the goal.
After killing the double minor penalty & getting within one goal again, the Sabres controlled play & at what one point in the second period were outshooting the Lightning 12-5, which lead to their fourth goal of the night, when Center Jordan Nolan came from behind the net & snuck the puck past Vasilevskiy. And after Killorn was called for hooking, the visitors took their first lead of the night when Right Wing Kyle Okposo patiently waited & snapped a wrist shot into the net, while standing in the right circle for the Sabres power play goal & a 5-4 lead.
The Lightning, after getting outshot 16-5 in the second period & trailing by a goal came out of the locker room outshooting the Sabres 6-1 in the first six minutes of the final period. And as the game passed the six minute mark in the third period, the Lightning tied the game at five when Cirelli, who won the faceoff at the start of the play, planted himself in front of the net & redirected Killorn's shot into the net. It was Cirelli's second goal of the night & fifth of the year. And the Lightning continued their third period dominance & once again grabbed a one goal when Center Brayden Point's floating shot went over Johnson's, for Point's 32nd goal of the year.
Hedman scored an empty net goal, the Lightning's seventh & final goal of the night, capping Tampa Bay's three goal third period.
In their final game of the season, Tampa Bay will clinch the division & the number one seed in the Eastern Conference with a win in Carolina against the Hurricanes on Saturday night. Coverage begins at 6:30 pm on 970 WFLA & the puck drops at 7 pm.
1. TBL- Cirelli 4th goal (Gourde)- 00:30
2. BUF- PPG- Mittlestadt 1st goal (Scandella, Rodrigues)- 2:57
3. TBL- Kucherov 39th goal (Unassisted)- 4:35
4. BUF- Nylander 1st goal (Guhle, Ristolainen)- 6:32
5. TBL- Gourde 25th goal (Killorn)- 9:40
1. TBL- Girardi 6th goal (Kucherov, Palat)- 1:04
2. BUF- Pominville 15th goal (Guhle, Rodrigues)- 8:59
3. BUF- Nolan 4th goal (Larsson)- 15:58
4. BUF- PPG- Okposo 15th goal (Eichel, O'Reily)- 18:45
1. TBL- Cirelli- (Killorn, Sergachev)- 6:15
2. TBL- Point- (Killorn, Gourde)- 7:02
3. TBL- Hedman (Vasilevskiy)- 18:34
1. TBL- Hedman (Delay of Game-Puck Over the Glass)- 1:16
2. TBL- Conacher (High-Sticking)- 17:22
1. BUF- Scandella (Roughing 4 mins)- 4:24
2. TBL- Miller (High-Sticking)- 9:55
3. TBL- Killorn (Hooking)- 17:464. BUF- Scandella (High-Sticking)- 19:50
1. TBL- Conacher (Tripping)- 8:19