Nikita Kucherov scored three times while Alex Killorn and Steven Stamkos added three points each as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Buffalo Sabres 6-1 on Tuesday night. Kucherov recorded his first goal since returning from injury early in the second period, added one midway through the period, and then capped off the scoring for his fourth career hat trick.
Andrei Vasilevskiy ran his career record to 12-1-1 against the Sabres as he made 17 saves on 18 shots with only Vinnie Hinostroza’s power play goal eluding him. Along with Kucherov’s three goals, Stamkos scored his 17th of the season, Anthony Cirelli scored, and Ondrej Palat continued his hot streak as he scored his 15th of the season. Unfortunately, Palat left the game in the second period for undisclosed reasons.
If there was a main difference between this match-up and the first time the two teams met up back in October, it was the Lightning burying the chances they created early in the game. Like, really early. As in just over two minutes after the puck dropped.
The Lightning forced a turnover in the neutral zone while Buffalo was changing lines. That allowed Victor Hedman a clean entry into the zone. He drew two Buffalo skaters over to him which left Ondrej Palat open in the slot. The red hot forward was able to bat down the aerial pass from Hedman and wrist it past the goaltender.
Ondrej Palat (Victor Hedman, Jan Rutta) 1-0 Lightning
Opportunity number two came via a quick transition and an odd-skater rush for the Bolts. Mikhail Sergachev stepped up on the rush, cut hard in towards the net and put a pass right on Anthony Cirelli’s stick. Cirelli was all alone in the slot (like Palat!) and didn’t miss. Give young Jack Quinn credit for busting back to take away Sergachev’s initial option - Steven Stamkos - but Cirelli did an excellent job of settling into the open spot and then beating Luukkonen.
Anthony Cirelli (Mikhail Sergachev, Alex Killorn) 2-0 Lightning
As clean as they started, they still had to rely on Vasilevskiy to make a couple of big saves. The two best chances came on breakaways. First Hedman blew a tire (see kids, it happens even to the pros) leading to a Victor Olofsson breakaway. He tried to catch Vasilevskiy by shooting early, but Vasy easily kicked it away.
Late in the period it was Mark Jankowski streaking in alone (shorthanded, none the less) and he also went for the blocker side of the goal only to be thwarted by Vasilevskiy.
I haven’t watch much of Buffalo this season, but I would wager the second period of this game was one of the worst of the season for the Sabres. It began with Luukkonen in the dressing room with a lower-body injury and Malcolm Subban in net. Despite having two-and-a-half power plays they the Sabres were outshot 16-6. Oh, and the Lightning scored three times.
Tampa Bay absolutely dominated the Sabres in the Buffalo zone, especially when the Point line was on the ice. They won puck battles, retrieved the puck on rebounds and missed shots, and constantly drove the defenders back when hitting the zone with speed. At times, it resembled a practice for the Lightning.
Tampa Bay greeted Subban rather rudely as Nikita Kucherov ripped a nasty wrist shot through him just seconds into the period. Pretty sure Subban hasn’t seen a shot like that in warm-ups or recent practice.
Nikita Kucherov (Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point) Power Play 3-0 Lightning
After the Lightning killed a couple of penalties, Kucherov netted another one. While he finished it off, it was Corey Perry setting the play up as he absolutely dangled Henri Jokiharju with a nifty stick fake before he dished it to Kucherov.
Nikita Kucherov (Corey Perry, Steven Stamkos) 4-0 Lightning
At this point the Lightning were almost toying with the Buffalo defense. A long shift in the Sabres zone ended with a wide open Steven Stamkos burying another shot past Subban.
Steven Stamkos (Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli) 5-0 Lightning
All credit to Subban for hanging in there and making a couple of key stops in the period to keep things from really getting out of hand, including a nice save on Brayden Point right before the horn sounded. He also survived Pat Maroon falling on him which can’t be easy.
The hopes in a third period of a blowout is that you get out of it without injuries or bad habits developing. Things didn’t get off to a great start when the Bolts took another sloppy penalty, this time Corey Perry with a needless trip, and cost Vasilevskiy his shutout. It took Buffalo a little while to get set up in the zone (and included a nasty teammate-on-teammate collision between Rasmus Dahlin and Olofsson) but when they did Vinnie Hinostroza buried a rebound opportunity to make it 5-1.
Vinnie Hinostroza (Colin Miller, Will Butcher) Power Play 5-1 Lightning
Vinnie Hinostroza puts the Sabres on the board pic.twitter.com/6vSYNWxubu— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 12, 2022
Even with the goal there wasn’t much suspense in the game as Buffalo wasn’t able to build any momentum off of it. There was one question left to be answered and Kucherov ended up doing the thing when he whistled a big shot from the top of the circles past everyone into the back of the net to complete his hat trick.
Nikita Kucherov (Victor Hedman) 6-1 Lightning
Give Cal Foote credit. Up by five with just a few minutes left in the game, the young kid hustled back on a breakaway and prevented a goal with a sliding leg save on Jack Quinn. Sorry, Jack, you’re going to have to wait for your first NHL goal.
The Lightning cruised to a pretty easy victory against an overmatched team. There were some things that I’m sure Coach Cooper didn’t care for (mainly the penalties) but for the most part they went out and did what they needed to do to shake off the bad taste from the loss to the Boston Bruins.
They will have a nice challenge waiting for them when they return to Tampa as they take on a Vancouver Canucks team that has been red hot since making their coaching change. It’ll also be a Canucks team looking to recover from a bit of shellacking (5-2) administered by the Florida Panthers on Tuesday.