A day after he turned 37-years-old (which he apparently celebrated by attending a Justin Bieber concert), Brian Elliott stopped all 27 Buffalo Sabres shots that he faced as he posted his first shutout as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning with a 5-0 victory. The home team snapped their four-game losing streak and leapfrogged the Boston Bruins (who lost to the Washington Capitals) in the standings. Five different members of the Lightning scored. Corey Perry and Ondrej Palat stopped long goalless streaks while Brandon Hagel, Nikita Kucherov, and Ross Colton also added to their goal totals. Despite giving up five goals, Craig Anderson had a pretty good game stopping 23 of 28.
If “process over outcome” is the number one mantra of the current iteration of the Lightning, “offense from defense” might be number two. Coach Cooper has long preached that taking care of things in the defensive zone often leads to more offense. Over the last stretch of play, the Lightning haven’t been cleaning up things in their own house and they’ve struggled, especially in the opening frames.
They weren’t exactly squeaky clean with their defense against Buffalo early on, but they did a reasonably good job of keeping much of the play to the perimeter and defended the dangerous areas of the net much better. When they didn’t, well, Brian Elliott bailed them out:
Defense first doesn’t always mean plays in your own zone. Case in point - the first two goals from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Midway through the period it looked like the Sabres were going to be able to clear the puck rather easily as it came up to the point, but Zach Bogosian stepped up and created a turnover with the puck being corralled by Corey Perry.
Despite having his legs cut out from under him by Henri Jokiharju Perry snapped a 16-game goalless streak by wristing it past a somewhat crossed up Craig Anderson.
Perry snapping his drought was nice, but Ondrej Palat finding the back of the net after wandering the offensive desert for forty months (28 games) was even better. Once again defense created offense as Palat knocked the puck down in the neutral zone and fed it to Brayden Point, who had a clean look from the slot, but opted to pass it back to Palat who found some space up high.
Quick strikes off of turnovers is a Lightning hallmark and is something that had been missing over the last month or so. Did they take advantage of a young Buffalo team prone to making mistakes? Sure, but for a team searching for confidence, you take it wherever you can find it.
It’s also easy to play defense when you don’t let the other team touch the puck. Instead of starting the second period by sitting back, the Bolts controlled it for almost the entire first 90 seconds and it led to a Brandon Hagel goal. Victor Hedman started the rush and drew the defense to him while Hagel crashed the net and cleaned up the mess on kind of a broken play. Credit to Anthony Cirelli for causing a ruckus in front of Anderson.
Brandon Hagel gets in on the act for @TBLightning #BUFvsTBL— Lightning Radio (@BoltsRadio) April 10, 2022
From the words of @DaveMishkin and @PhilEspo7
Listen: https://t.co/JaUzaTshKr, @WFLANews or Lightning Radio Network pic.twitter.com/TQvpXPbQJ7
Another broken play (and heads up read) made it 4-0 before the five minute mark of the second period. Palat had his shot deflected to the boards, but Ryan McDonagh (welcome back) had pinched up and was there to control it. He saw Nikita Kucherov open at the far post and put the pass on his stick. Kuch don’t miss from there.
"Cross-ice feed Kucherov SCORE" - @DaveMishkin— Lightning Radio (@BoltsRadio) April 10, 2022
Those @TBLightning boys are running wild today #BUFvsTBL
Listen: https://t.co/JaUzaTshKr, @WFLANews or Lightning Radio Network pic.twitter.com/xbPhg3FD0J
As one can expect with a 4-0 lead, score effects took over a bit and Buffalo put a little pressure on the Lightning net. Elliott stood strong and his teammates cleared out second chances. The Bolts did have a couple of odd-man rushes as Buffalo pushed their defense forward, but Craig Anderson denied Anthony Cirelli midway through the period and Alex Killorn at the end of it.
With a 4-0 lead and 20 minutes to go, the Lightning could, in a sense, start looking ahead. Not by ignoring the Sabres, but by focusing on the correct habits that lead to winning streaks. In this case, puck retrieval. Steven Stamkos found a little space in front of Anderson and tried to wrap it home, but couldn’t pull it off. Instead of letting things go, The Captain stayed with the play and then found Ross Colton with a pass from behind the net. The center buried the feed to make it 5-0.
With 12:45 left in the third, the first penalty of the game was called as Kjell Samuelsson’s kid, Mattias, flipped a puck over the boards (there was a call against the Sabres that was wiped out by Perry’s goal). Coming off of an 0-for-5 performance against the Boston Bruins in their last game, converting one against the Sabres would be the icing on the cake.
Alas, despite some good looks (Hedman fired wide and Brayden Point from the slot) they didn’t connect. Then Mikhail Sergachev got a little handsy on a Buffalo rush and was whistled for holding. The PK was successful and included an Anthony Cirelli shorthanded breakaway (he did not score).
The two teams traded high-sticking penalties that overlapped down the stretch, but neither team did much with either the extra skater or the 4-on-4. Cirelli did have one solid look shorthanded, and that would be the last real dangerous chance for either team. The clocked ticked to zero with the puck in the Buffalo zone and Elliott had his first shutout as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning.