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Sabres at Lightning Game Preview: The 1 before the last 1

Feb 29, 2024; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Brandon Hagel (38) controls the puck against the Buffalo Sabres in the third period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Game #80
Time: 7:00 PM EST
Location: Amalie Arena
Broadcast/Streaming: BSFL, MSG-B, ESPN+, HULU

Opponent’s Site: Die by the Blade


Welcome to the penultimate game of the season for the Tampa Bay Lightning. What a great word – penultimate. Anyway, it’s the next-to-last game of the season for the Bolts, and honestly, they have some things to work on before the playoffs start this weekend. Since clinching their playoff spot they’ve played, well, okay is probably the best way to put it. There have been some good signs, but they have also seen some bad habits creep back in the game.

“The list is too long. Next question.”

What list was Jon Cooper referencing following the Lightning’s 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals? Well, it wasn’t Chris Jericho’s list of wrestling holds. Instead, it was the list of things that went wrong defensively in the game, and while it wasn’t quite at 1004, there was plenty.

The most noticeable was their coverage in the defensive zone, especially on the fourth goal for Washington.

Nick Paul is a little late in getting out to front the shot from the point, allowing Trevor van Riemsdyk to get his shot on net. Victor Hedman does his job in clearing out the net front player and not allowing him to get his stick out for a deflection, but Matt Dumba is beat to the front of the net by Nic Dowd, who has an easy sweep at the puck when it trickled out of Andrei Vasilevskiy’s reach.

The Bolts also struggled with clearing their zone for most of the night, and as a result, struggled to maintain any sort of offensive rhythm. These are issues we saw early in the season, then they improved over their winning streak, and have now worked their way back into their play.

The good news is that a lot of this is mental, and the Lightning have shown that when they are engaged, they’re tough to beat. It’s hard to trick themselves back into the grind-it-out mindset they were in when the playoffs were in doubt when the games they’ve played over the last week were essentially meaningless.

It should also be noted that they have been shuffling their defensive pairings quite a bit since Dumba joined the team at the trade deadline. Outside of the Hedman/Darren Raddysh pairing, things have been a bit jumbled up, especially since Haydn Fleury’s injury. Hopefully, they can use these last two games to get some sort of comfort-level with each other on the second and third pairs.

As for the Sabres, well, it’s a bit of a lost season for them. They had high hopes for a playoff spot, but injuries and inconsistent play hindered them at the beginning of the season. They got better once they figured out their goaltending situation, with Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen grabbing the reins. He’s posted a .910 SV% and 2.57 GAA over the season. He’s bailed out his defense, which is allowing 2.98 goals per game (12th in the league), with his 21.33 GSAx, which is 6th in the league.

Despite missing 10 games, Tage Thompson is leading the team with 29 goals and is looking for his third straight season with 30 or more goals. Rasmus Dahlin and Alex Tuch come into the game tied with a team-leading 59 points.

The Lightning can still get to 100 points for the eighth time in their history and match their season win total from last year if they win out. All in all, not too bad that was a question mark for even making the playoffs in November.

Stats Match-up

Game #80Tampa Bay LightningBuffalo Sabres
Overall Record44-28-838-37-6
Home Record24-10-521-19-1
Road Record20-18-317-18-5
Goals For280240
Goals Against259241
Power Play28.9%16.7%
Penalty Kill83.0%79.7%
Last 10 Games6-3-15-4-1
Stats via NHL and Natural Stat Trick


Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lines

Anthony Duclair – Brayden Point – Nikita Kucherov
Brandon Hagel – Anthony Cirelli – Steven Stamkos
Mikey Eyssimont – Nick Paul – Mitchell Chaffee

Tanner Jeannot – Luke Glendening – Connor Sheary

Victor Hedman – Darren Raddysh
Nick Perbix – Erik Cernak
Emil Lilleberg – Matt Dumba

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Jonas Johansson

Buffalo Sabres Projected Lines

JJ Peterka – Tage Thompson – Alex Tuch

Zach Benson – Dylan Cozens – Jack Quinn

Jeff Skinner – Peyton Krebs – Jordan Greenway

Zemgus Girgensons – Tyson Jost – Lukas Rousek

Owen Power – Rasmus Dahlin

Kale Clague – Henri Jokiharju

Jacob Bryson – Connor Clifton

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen

Eric Comrie

The Playoff Race

Atlantic DivisionGames PlayedRecordPointsGames Remaining
x – Boston Bruins8047-18-151092
x – Florida Panthers8151-24-61081
x – Toronto Maple Leafs8046-24-101022
Wild CardGames PlayedRecordPointsGames Remaining
x – Lightning8044-28-8962
Washington Capitals8038-31-11872
Detroit Red Wings8039-32-9872
Top 3 teams in the Atlantic make the playoffs, top two wild card teams also make the playoffs
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