TAMPA-- Nikita Kucherov scored his 30th goal & reached 100 points for the second straight season to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 2-1 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night. Kucherov, who clinched the win with a shootout goal, became the fastest player to 100 points since Hall of Fame center Mario Lemieux. Kucherov reached 100 points in 62 games, while in 1996-97 season Lemieux reached 100 points in one less game.
Close checking between both teams left little room for scoring opportunities in the first 90 seconds of the game, with the Lightning recording the first two shots on goal for the game. But even with the tight checking, each team's top players found better scoring chances. First with over three minutes gone in the first period, Lightning center Brayden Point got a close shot that Sabres goalie Carter Hutton snagged with his glove. Then just over a minute later, Sabres center Jack Eichel, created some space & was able to get a quality chance on goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy that the Lightning goalie was able to stop with his blocker.
After being scratched in the Lightning's last game in Philadelphia, Point was one of the few players in the game that continued to get scoring chances in the first 10 minutes of the game, having another solid chance when he lifted a backhanded shot high over the net.
The scoring chances increased for the Sabres after Lightning forward J.T. Miller was called for a four minute high-sticking penalty. And during the power play, the Sabres recorded four shots on goal including a good chance for center Tage Thompson that Vasilevskiy was able to fight off. But the Sabres did break the scoreless tie when defenseman Rasmus Dahlin skated in from the point & snapped a shot towards the net that deflected off Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who was just inside the face-off circle. And the puck trickled past Vasilevskiy.
After being outshot 17-15 in the first 20 minutes, Tampa Bay entered the second period trailing 1-0. But Buffalo got the first two shots on goal in the second period within the first minute. Tampa Bay did get a great chance from center Anthony Cirelli with just over six minutes gone in the second, but Hutton was able to extend his leg to make the save on the low shot.
Buffalo had its chances to get their second goal but once again Vasilevskiy was able to get in front a shot by Eichel, who lifted a shot into the Lightning goalie's chest. And saves like that one kept the Lightning deficit at one. That is until with just over 11 minutes gone in the period, Kucherov & forward Tyler Johnson both got behind the Sabres defense, chased down a loose puck at center ice. And after Johnson got to the puck first, they were able to turn the play into a two on one rush with Johnson giving Kucherov a perfect feed. And the league's leader in points snapped a one-time shot high past Hutton to tie the score at one.
In the final 9 minutes of the second period, Tampa Bay got its first power play opportunity. But as much time that was spent in the offensive zone during the man advantage that included multiple scoring chances by forward Ondrej Palat & a low shot by Kucherov that Hutton was unable to get to but hit the post, the Lightning were unable to score on the power play.
The Lightning continued to create solid quality chances before the end of the second period including a shot by Point that rang the cross-bar & rush by forward Mathieu Joseph that lead to a shot. But after 40 minutes, the score was still tied at one.
The third period started with Tampa Bay owning a shot advantage of 29-23. And with less than four minutes gone in the 3rd period, the Lightning got another two minute man advantage when Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian got a delay of game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass. But again the Lightning were kept off the scoreboard during the power play.
Three minutes after the end of their power play, the Lightning penalty kill had to go to work when defenseman Eric Cernak was called for tripping center Jeff Skinner. The Lightning killed off that penalty & were given another chance on the power play seconds before the Cernak penalty ended but again were unable to get the puck past Hutton.
The final 10 minutes of regulation included some physical play that was not seen in the first two periods including matching roughing penalties on Point & Skinner. Eventually the game went into overtime where both teams controlled the puck in their offensive zone but both Hutton & Vasilevskiy continued to come up big in net.
After the five minute overtime, center Steven Stamkos was the first to go during the shootout & he scored over Hutton. Eichel was unable to match Stamkos & after another failed attempt by each team, Kucherov, who became the first Lightning player to have two 100 point seasons, won it with a shooutout goal through the legs of Hutton.
Tampa Bay has the weekend off but will look for their ninth straight win when they host the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night. Coverage begins on News Radio WFLA with the pregame at 6:30pm & puck drop is scheduled for 7:30pm.
1. BUFF- Dahlin 7th goal (Bogosian, Eichel)- 18:13
1. TBL- Kucherov 30th goal (Johnson)- 11:10
1. TBL- Stamkos Shootout Goal
2. BUF- Eichel Shot misses
3. TBL- Point Shot misses
4. BUF- Sobotka Shot misses
5. TBL- Kucherov Shooutout Goal
1. TBL- Miller (High-Sticking 4 mins)- 11:26
1. BUF- Larsson (Roughing 2 mins)- 12:13
1.BUF- Bogosian (Delay Of Game- Puck Over The Glass 2 mins)- 3:58
2. TBL- Cernak (Tripping 2 mins)- 6:55
3.BUF- Ristolainen (Tripping 2 mins)- 8:46
4. BUF- Skinner (Roughing 2 mins)- 13:43
5. TBL- Point (Roughing 2 mins)- 13:43
6. TBL- Point (Holding 2 mins)- 13:43
1. BUF- Ristolainen (Roughing 2 mins)- 3:34
2. TBL- Kucherov (Roughing 2 mins)- 3:34