Did anyone prepare themselves for the adrenaline laced cocktail that was served this evening? No? Well, if your heart wasn’t pounding its way out of your chest by the end of this game, then I’m questioning your ability to enjoy the sport of hockey. The Tampa Bay Lightning won a wild back and forth game against the Buffalo Sabres, 5-4.
Where do I even start? The first period alone saw five goals and three lead changes in a span of 15 minutes. Metrically, Tampa Bay controlled 64% of the shot attempts at 5v5 and out-chanced Buffalo 13-6 (7-1 in high danger chances). They made the Sabres look slow and confused often, but after 20 minutes the game was 3-2 in the Lightning’s favor. A bit of an engima if you ask me, but the only way to figure it out is to look at the goals.
Dan Girardi pinches and Dan Girardi scores. No matter how you feel about Girardi as a hockey player, this was a fantastic read by him. He sneaks in behind the Sabres defender and finishes off Alex Killorn’s pass. It might’ve taken him two swipes to get it done, but a goal is a goal.
Buffalo controlled little in the opening period, but the small spurts of offensive-zone time they did manage were effective. Buffalo just outworked Tampa Bay on this goal. Braydon Coburn and Mikhail Sergachev had chances to stop any kind of offense being generated but lost their respective puck battles. What isn’t shown in the replay is the events leading up to this goal. The Sabres were skating circles around Tampa Bay before this sequence of events. Forcing the puck behind the defense and forcing the Lightning defense into awkward positions. Credit Buffalo here, they earned this one.
I’m sorry folks, but this one is on Domingue. He has to knock that puck dead on the initial shot so it doesn’t have the chance to bounce off of him like that. It wasn’t terrible coverage by Tampa Bay, Ryan McDonagh did get a decent stick check on Sam Reinhart. This is one that Domingue is going to want back.
Take note of the time. Buffalo scored two goals in a span of 57 seconds. That’s one hell of a way to capitalize on some small spurts of momentum on their part, even though the second goal could be categorized as fluky.
Killorn got the goal, but J.T. Miller made this play. That power move across the net had every Sabres defender chasing him and forced Carter Hutton to get super aggressive to make the initial save. What Hutton failed to account for was his terrible swipe at the puck that went right onto Killorn’s stick. Killorn wasn’t missing this chance.
A hooking penalty at 11:44 on Mathieu Joseph looked to put Tampa Bay in a precarious situation, given how inconsistent the penalty kill has been of late, but instead the Lightning lost one of their best defenseman.
Jack Eichel was penalized for this play, but only two minutes. At first glance, I thought it was a slap on the wrist, but after re-watching what happened I understand the call. I wouldn’t categorize what Eichel did as “dirty”; more so, careless. You can see Eichel reach down to try and ask if McDonagh is ok and put his arms in a gesture of “crap, my bad”, but Anthony Cirelli immediately came to McDonagh’s defense. So, put the pitchforks down and understand that Eichel was in the wrong, but he isn’t a dirty player for this. He was careless in this situation and is lucky he wasn’t penalized further for the hit.
Eichel’s penalty took place six seconds after Joseph’s, so 4-on-4 play went on for the next two minutes. Tampa Bay continued to pin Buffalo in the offensive zone as play returned to 5v5, but they weren’t able to get shots on Hutton consistently. Shots high, wide, blocked, or passing in shooting areas plagued the Lightning in this period (and the entire game).
Luckily, all it takes is for one shot to get through and that’s exactly what happened when Tampa Bay regained the lead.
No need to explain this one. It’s a 3-on-1 with Nikita Kucherov holding the puck. You let Kucherov do Kucherov things and he’ll make goaltenders look silly.
McDonagh’s injury did leave the Lightning shorthanded on the backend, but it also brought a level of chippiness to the game that we haven’t seen often. The Lightning looked angry after McDonagh was taken out of the game. It should be noted that Dan Girardi suffered a knee injury shortly after his goal when Tage Thompson pushed his leg out to slow down Girardi in the neutral zone. Their knees collided and it didn’t look pretty for Girardi at first. Girardi returned whereas McDonagh didn’t.
Dan Girardi, who scored the first goal in this game, leaves after taking a bad check to the leg. Wasn’t pretty. Needed to be helped off the ice. pic.twitter.com/XaW3cBkbn0— Ryan Bass (@Ry_Bass) November 30, 2018
That’s two defenseman that Buffalo managed to injure in one period, and the Lightning were clearly not pleased about it. However, once the buzzer sounded to close the opening period it was the Sabres who jumped Cedric Paquette for reasons unknown (literally, I have no idea why). Nathan Beaulieu was given a 10-minute misconduct and Zach Bogosian was given two minutes for cross checking. A Lightning power-play to start the second is a pretty great way to open a period.
Pretty passive PP there. No shots.— Matthew Esteves (@mattesteves89) November 30, 2018
Tampa Bay regressed to the pass happy unit that doesn’t take shots to open the period. As frustrating as that was, the Lightning still dictated the pace. In the second, they controlled 61% of the shot attempts at 5v5 and out-chanced Buffalo 10-4 (high danger was tied at one). However, as has been the case with these Sabres over the past few weeks, they get fortunate goals when they need them.
This was Buffalo’s first shot of the period. Yanni Gourde should’ve been more aggressive in hindsight, but the chances of that backhanded saucer pass both missing the kick save of Domingue and hitting Reinhart’s skate just right is not high. Domingue read the play and made, in my opinion, the right move in this situation. If he was a quarter of a second faster then that puck is pushed toward the boards with little worry. That’s hockey for you, though.
Tampa Bay didn’t relent with their offensive pressure after Reinhart’s goal. They continued to pin Buffalo in the offensive zone and work shots toward the net. They managed to draw a four minute double minor on Johan Larsson to give them ample time on the power play to regain the lead.
TB fails to convert on a 4-min PP. Pretty poor showing at that.— Matthew Esteves (@mattesteves89) November 30, 2018
They registered two shots in four minutes, and repeatedly made the extra pass on nearly every opportunity. This gave Buffalo some momentum as the second wound down, but Domingue and the Lightning held on to keep the score tied at three. After two periods, the Lightning led 25-12 in shots, controlled 62% of the shot attempts at 5v5, and out-chanced Buffalo 23-10 (8-1 in high danger chances). They deserved to be ahead, but hockey doesn’t always flow the way it should.
This one is on Domingue. There isn’t much of a screen from Point to see through. Plainly put, Domingue just whiffed on this shot.
Buffalo’s penalty trouble continued a little over a minute later when Larsson was penalized for tripping. The Lightning wasted little time evening the score.
Puck, meet net. Steven Stamkos hammered this one so hard it bounced off the back of the net, hit Hutton in the back, and still went back into the net. The Captain wasn’t playing around with this cannon of a shot.
Buffalo received their own power-play 1:25 later when Killorn was called for interference. Buffalo’s top end talent is nothing to dismiss, they can move the puck and score so this penalty kill was huge for Tampa Bay.
#TBLightning do a good job of killing off that penalty, particularly by Callahan and Paquette— Lightning Insider (@Erik_Erlendsson) November 30, 2018
The display that Tampa Bay put forth on the penalty kill was one of its finest of the season. Buffalo recorded zero shots, hardly any zone time, and were harassed by Paquette, Callahan, and Cirelli in their own zone for nearly the entirety of the man advantage. A massive roar erupted from the crowd at Amalie Arena (which had a numerous and raucous sect of Buffalo fans chanting all game) in support of the penalty kill and it felt as though the Lightning weren’t going to shoot themselves in the foot anymore.
Unlike the previous two periods where Tampa Bay was clearly the better team, the third period saw more back and forth play between the two Atlantic teams. The Lightning still managed to control 54% of the shot attempts at 5v5 and out-chanced Buffalo 10-7 (4-0 in Tampa Bay’s favor in high danger chances), but Buffalo’s surges were more frequent and dangerous as the period progressed.
A turnover in the upper slot gave Kyle Okposo a golden opportunity to fire one past Domingue, but the Lightning goaltender flashed his glove to snatch the puck out of the air which led to a raucous applause for the effort. Tampa Bay would counter attack every time Buffalo lost control and it was though Kucherov had the goal ahead goal on an odd-man rush, but he ended up hitting the post instead.
It mattered little when the true Lightning hero emerged from the bench. The clutch goal scorer that is... Cedric Paquette.
Give Sergachev some love here, folks. His patience on this play is what made it happen. Once you’re done there, give some more love to Paquette for sniping this one in. This is a hell of a shot, and he picked the far corner to beat Hutton here. If this is the Paquette we’re going to see this season (instead of the injury prone, bad penalty taking one of seasons past) then the Lightning’s fourth line is going to cause problems for a lot of teams.
Buffalo pushed as regulation time was winding down, but were unable to generate anything dangerous on Domingue for the remainder of the game. So, after a wild 60 minutes of goals, hits, saves, and some baffling plays the Tampa Bay Lightning put an end to Buffalo’s winning streak and regained the lead in the Atlantic division.
Putting aside the analytical mindset I tend to have for these recaps...THAT WAS A GAME WASN’T IT?! That was the most exciting game I’ve seen at Amalie Arena all season. Sure, Tampa Bay controlled in the possession realm, but Buffalo was scoring on plays that just made you scratch your head at times. Great job by the Lightning to grind this one to its conclusion and not worry about trailing numerous times. If this does end up being a preview for a possible playoff matchup (even though Buffalo doesn’t have the metrics to back up their play, they’ve banked so many points that, barring an epic collapse, they’re more than likely going to be in the post season), it’s going to be a fireworks display.
Jon Cooper didn’t have an update for Ryan McDonagh’s status after the game. He said they would know more tomorrow. That’s not the most promising news, but hopefully McDonagh is ok. He’s been the team’s best defenseman this season (Victor Hedman hasn’t been Victor Hedman during the first quarter of the season) and losing him for extended time, on top of Anton Stralman still being out, is a painful look for Tampa Bay. They have Slater Koekkoek to come in and play, but there’s a marked drop off between the two players. Maybe Eric Cernak is used more often, but it’s unknown until we get a confirmed status on McDonagh moving forward.
I know this game had people on the edge of their seats. Let’s hear all about it!