The Lightning slogged their way to a 2-0 shutout victory over Buffalo behind goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. While it wasn’t pretty, the two points will be welcome following back-to-back losses and headed into another division matchup tomorrow night in Boston. By far, the most exciting moment of the night came when the much maligned (and possibly unfairly given his play so far this season) Dan Girardi scored his first goal since the Late Cretaceous period. [It’s too bad we can’t put dinosaur emojis into articles. - Acha]
The game started off basically the way it would go all night: slowly. The Sabres seemed entirely uninterested in generating any offense of their own and instead satisfied themselves by clogging the neutral zone and making sure that if the Lightning were going to win, they certainly weren’t going to have any damn fun doing so.
Late in the period, the Lightning took the lead on a power play opportunity. They started the play down low. Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat set up behind the net with Palat making the final pass to Mikhail Sergachev. Sergachev put a one-timer past Buffalo goalie Robin Lehner. The Lightning defender didn’t catch the shot perfectly but the passes behind the net made it difficult for Lehner to find the puck and he left an opening far side.
The Sabres showed some life after the goal, creating a mess and a couple of decent looks in front of the Lightning net, but Vasilevskiy handled them fairly easily with plenty of support from his defense. Heading into the first intermission, it seemed like maybe the pace would pick up in the second period.
Unfortunately for everyone watching the game, it didn’t. It somehow got even slower. At the risk of jeopardizing my armchair psychology degree, the Bolts seemed to be playing down to their competition. The Sabres were so unthreatening that it lulled the Lightning into some sort of hockey coma and they coasted around the ice like teenagers at Rockefeller Center instead of an NHL team for the first half of the second period.
A little past the halfway point, the Lightning got a spark from the unlikeliest source. Dan Girard ripped a slap shot from the blue line that went through Steven Stamkos and Sabres defender Marco Scandella and into Lehner’s net. Girardi’s first goal since February gave the Lightning a 2-0 lead that felt like a 487-0 lead against a Sabres team that might not score another goal for the rest of the season.
The third period was more of the same. Not even score effects could make Buffalo look like they had a goal in them. The Lightning had an extended 5-on-3 with eight minutes left and nearly scored a goal that would’ve rivaled Kucherov’s insane shootout goal against Buffalo last season. Ondrej Palat passed to Kucherov in the slot and Kucherov one-timed a pass between his legs to Stamkos, who one-timed it at net but didn’t beat Lehner.
Things got a little dicey toward the end of the game when the Sabres pulled Lehner early and managed to generate some extended pressure during nearly four minutes of 6 on 5. The Lightning had multiple chances at the empty net but weren’t able to get the third goal. [I was rooting for a Vasy goal. - Acha] Kucherov came closest, hitting the post. Vasilevskiy did his part and locked down his shutout despite the pressure.
As far as hockey games go, that was certainly one of them. And as far as NHL teams go, the Sabres are nominally one of them. Hopefully they score another goal at some point this season. I’m skeptical but we’ll see. Tomorrow night will be a tougher test as the Lightning go into Boston on the second half of a back to back with Peter Budaj likely in net. They’ll need a better performance than they put on tonight if they want to pick up another two points.