Tampa Bay Lightning Game 70: versus the Buffalo Sabres

The Tampa Bay Lightning lost to the Buffalo Sabres 5-2.

There weren’t a lot of redeeming qualities about this game. The Lightning played hard, and they weren’t as easily discouraged as they had been the previous couple of games, but it was penalties that did them in. They did come back in the third to make it 4-2 late in the third, which is great, but it was also too little too late.

In a surprising move, head coach Rick Tocchet pulled Antero Niittymaki during a third period power play for a two-man advantage. That was interesting for two reasons. One, Tocchet hasn’t pulled a desperation move like that before. He apparently has realized that it’s do or die time in regards to playoffs and was pulling out all of the stops – literally. Frankly, it would’ve been nicer to have seen this a few games ago, but at least he’s starting to figure it out.

The other reason that move was so surprising was that it indicated that Tocchet had more faith in his defense than perhaps they deserve – as was shown at the very end of the third period when Buffalo got their empty netter. Individually, the defensemen on the Lightning are good – some very good. But as a group playing together, they’ve got a long way to go.

The names that I kept hearing on the broadcast over and over were Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos, Steve Downie, and Niittymaki. Those seemed to be the guys that wanted the game the most.

Niittymaki was great; I wish he had more defensive support. A guy can only stop so many shots on his own, after all. And he’s tried to stop them all, too. The thing is, it’s the law of averages that finally gets to a guy like that. If you get enough shots on you, one’s likely to go in at some point.

Downie wasn’t one of the names that I consistently heard all game, but as the game wore on, he was mentioned more. Coming to Stamkos’s defense, after Stamkos had gotten ran, was predictable – and frankly, it needed to be done. He has taken some questionable penalties this season, but overall, Downie’s turning into a very good offensive threat. Once he finds that balance of playing with passion and staying in control, he’ll be almost unstoppable.

Stamkos is likely still playing injured. He wasn’t that great in the faceoff circle, only winning 4 out of 14, but he got better as the game went along. Martin St. Louis is playing banged up himself, so that line’s a little gimpy right now. Which is too bad, since those two guys make up most of the Lightning’s total offense.

Lecavalier is a new man since the Olympic break – and that couldn’t have happened at a better time. He’s been shooting more, winning more faceoffs, and scoring more. About the only thing that Vinny isn’t doing is playing better defensively. He’s a -8 in his last nine games. But most importantly, he’s leading the way. You can tell that he really wants to get into playoffs, and he’s more than willing to carry the team on his back to get there. Unfortunately, seeing how the rest of the team’s doing while he’s taken his game up another notch, he’s doing more carrying than leading at this point.

The next game is the last matchup with the Washington Capitals this season on Saturday, 20 March. Game time is 7:30 pm Eastern. If you don’t have tickets, think about getting some. This ought to be a good game.

And, if the hockey gods are kind, maybe a preview to a first round playoff matchup?

Sabres vs Lightning coverage [SB Nation]

Die By The Blade [SB Nation Buffalo Sabres site]

Sabres vs Lightning recap [TSN]

Sabres vs Lightning boxscore [TSN]