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Lightning play better, lose in overtime to Sabres, 3-2

Oct 17, 2023; Buffalo, New York, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Brandon Hagel (38) reacts after scoring the game tying goal with seven seconds left in the third period against the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

There are some losses that you feel better about than others. The Tampa Bay Lightning’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres was one of them. Compared to the defensive performance over the weekend in losses to Detroit and Ottawa, the team’s play in Buffalo was light years ahead. For much of the night, the Lightning showed signs of the type of team they want to be this season.

Jonas Johansson has a solid game, stopping 28 of 31 shots while Brandon Hagel scored twice. Anthony Cirelli added two assists. After struggling a bit in his first two starts, Sabres’ goaltender Devon Levi was excellent as he denied 21 of the Lightning’s 23 shots. Zemgus Girgensons, Jeff Skinner, and Dylan Cozens had the goals for Buffalo. Steven Stamkos missed his second game in a row while Zach Bogosian rotated in for Calvin de Haan on defense.

Progress is not a straight line, and a couple of mistakes in the first period put them down two goals before the first 20 minutes were done. First, it was a slow line change that opened up a lane for Zemgus Girgensons to streak into and receive a pass from Tyson Jost. Girgensons did not fritter away his golden opportunity and beat Jonas Johansson over the glove.

Roughly seven minutes later, the Lightning were in the Buffalo zone, but Brayden Point turned it over giving the Sabres possession and allowing them to get into the Lightning zone. Tage Thomson, who has yet to score a goal, drew the attention of four Lightning players in the middle of the ice. As you can imagine, that left at least one Sabre wide open. Owen Power spied that Sabre, Jeff Skinner, at the left post and slid a perfect pass over to him. Skinner, surrounded by nothing but clean ice, corralled the puck and lifted it just under the bar and in for his first goal of the season.

Despite a decent job of limiting dangerous chances, mistakes had led to the Lightning being on the wrong side of the scoreboard. They did have a couple of chances of their own in the first, but goaltender Devon Levi stoned them early on, including an exceptional save on Point in the slot. A hit by Austin Watson at the end of the period on Rasmus Dahlin drew the ire of Girgensons. It also earned an absolute thrashing by Watson.

Did the fight spark the Lightning a bit? Who knows. They did pick up their play as the game went on though. They had a really solid defensive second period helped out by Johansson who made two big stops on Thompson to keep the game 2-0. Eventually, the Lightning found the promised land as Tanner Jeannot and Anthony Cirelli outworked the Sabres behind Levi’s net. The puck popped out front to Brandon Hagel who buried it into the net for his first goal of the game.

The third period was more of the same. The Lightning weren’t especially flashy, but they were putting together solid shifts with some slightly altered lines. Alex Barre-Boulet jumped up to the first line with Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point. The dynamic AHL-scoring champion set up Kucherov with a nice hook pass from behind the net, but Kucherov’s attempted game-tying goal rattled off the crossbar.

Tampa Bay kept generating chances but couldn’t find the equalizer until there were seven seconds left in the game. Point flung a shot at the net from the side boards. Hagel deflected it onto Levi’s pads, gathered his own rebound and snuck it in to secure a point for the Lightning.

Overtime was all Buffalo and after Thompson put one off the post early in the extra frame, Dylan Cozens ended the game as he cut to Johansson’s left, used Conor Sheary as a bit of a screen and fired a shot off of the far post and into the back of the net. It was a perfect shot and needed to be to beat Johansson.

The Lightning finished their three-game road trip with just one point, but now head back to Tampa for a long home stand to finish out the month.

The Lines

The Goals

Zemgus Girgensons (Tyson Jost, Mattias Samuelsson) 1-0 Sabres

Jeff Skinner (Owen Power, Alex Tuch) 2-0 Sabres

Brandon Hagel (Tanner Jeannot, Anthony Cirelli) 2-1 Sabres

Brandon Hagel (Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli) 2-2

Dylan Cozins (Jordan Greenway, Rasmus Dahlin) 3-2

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