Lightning return to form, beat Sabres 3-2 in Game 1 of NHL Global Series

They’re back!

Victor Hedman and Patrick Maroon returned to the lineup, and the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 in the first game of the NHL Global Series in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Bolts went with a new-look top line of Tyler Johnson, Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov to start the game, and this line came through huge for the Lightning early. Linus Ullmark was fantastic for Buffalo, but even he couldn’t stem the tide for the Sabres, who lost their fourth straight game.

First Period

Right from puck drop, the Sabres were all over the Lightning. The Bolts needed Andrei Vasilevskiy to make several saves early in order to preserve the scoreless game, including a point blank shot from Jack Eichel.

Tampa Bay survived the early onslaught and got on the board about just over three minutes in. In his own end, Kevin Shattenkirk rang a heavy shot all the way around the boards to find a wide-open Point at the Sabres blueline. Point fed Kucherov with a cross-ice pass and he made no mistake, beating Linus Ullmark with a rocket of a one-timer to put the Bolts up 1-0.

Kucherov’s goal gave the Bolts oxygen, and they began to pressure the Sabres on the rush. Mikhail Sergachev started the forecheck and delivered a heavy hit against the boards behind the Sabres net. As Sergachev drifted back towards the blueline, the puck found him in the slot, but he missed the net wide. Cirelli had a nice drive 1-on-2, but he couldn’t quite finish with two Sabres draped all over him. Erik Cernak’s drive was stopped by Ullmark. Ryan McDonagh buried Conor Sheary in the offensive zone. Mathieu Joseph poking around the net led to a scrum, and for the most part, the Bolts were flying after the goal.

They weren’t without defensive lapses, though. Luke Schenn made a poor decision to pinch, which sent Buffalo down on a 2-on-1. Sergachev made an excellent play to poke the puck away before a shot was taken. A couple of shifts later, Sergachev stole the puck from a forechecking Sabres player and proceeded to pin another against the boards so the Lightning could exit the zone.

Midway through the period, Kucherov and Vladimir Sobotka collided in the neutral zone and Sobotka went down hard. I’m not going to speculate on what the injury could potentially be, but the trainer had to come out, and Sobotka needed help getting back up to his feet. Sobotka was helped off the ice by two teammates, but wasn’t putting any weight on his right leg. Sabres coach Ralph Krueger wanted a penalty called, but the referees maintained that they didn’t see the lead-up to the collision.

Then we did see the first penalty of the game, as Rasmus Dahlin went off for interference on Maroon. With the Bolts on the powerplay, Steven Stamkos’ one-timer just about killed Rasmus Ristolainen (who went down to block it for some reason), and then they struck again. After some quick passing between Stamkos and Hedman, Hedman unloaded a bomb of a shot that beat Ullmark with heavy traffic in front. Replays showed that Alex Killorn got a tip on the puck, so his third goal of the season gave the Lightning a 2-0 lead.

With the Bolts up by two, Jack Eichel decided he had had enough and took over. He drove through the entire Lightning defense with Alex Volkov draped on top of him and still got a shot off. Cernak took an interference penalty  on the Sabres captain and the struggling Bolts penalty kill went to work.

Buffalo got a couple of good chances, but nothing beat Vasilevskiy, and the Bolts headed into the first intermission still up 2-0, with 55 seconds of PK time awaiting them in the second. There was a really good pace to this period, with few whistles, a lot of back-and-forth action and good scoring chances for both teams.

Second Period

Sobotka did not return for the start of the period, which was concerning. However, the Bolts killed off the penalty, though the Sabres did get a good scoring chance with Reinhart being stopped by Vasilevskiy.

Both teams got some extended time on their cycles and there was some more back and forth action at the beginning of the period. McCabe hit Point in the face with his stick, which sent the Lightning back to the man-advantage. They started strong, but didn’t generate a lot of secondary chances, and struggled to get set up as the powerplay continued. Buffalo did a good job of cutting off passing lanes and clearing the puck down the ice. Johan Larsson cleared the puck, chased and beat Hedman down the ice for it, and took it to the net. Vasilevskiy poked the puck away before Girgensons could get a stick on it.

In the dying seconds of the powerplay, Eichel tried to dance in and had his stick lifted and the puck stolen by Kucherov. On the ensuing rush, Killorn and Hedman got back-to-back one-timers off in front of Ullmark, who stood his ground and stopped both shots point-blank.

A long and strong shift by the Lightning, led by Maroon and Yanni Gourde, hemmed Buffalo in their own end for several minutes. Then we got some more back and forth action, including a tremendous backcheck by Johnson to prevent a scoring chance without taking a penalty. The Lightning generally did a really good job of backchecking in this period, in an effort to limit the Sabres’ effectiveness off the rush.

Point entered the Sabres zone and got drilled by both Ristolainen and McCabe trying to split the defense. He would be all right, though. Stamkos got a heavy one-timer off in the slot that was stopped by Ullmark. There were a lot of back-and-forth plays that were broken up before either team could get a shot off.

Then the Sabres got on the board. McCabe sent a pass to Ristolainen, who took a shot on goal that was redirected in by Sam Reinhart. The goal was originally waved off due to a high stick, but after video review, the call was overturned and the Bolts had their lead cut in half.

Kucherov’s goal in the first gave the Bolts oxygen. Did the same happen for the Sabres? Not exactly, because the Lighting refused to let that happen. The following shift essentially became a firing squad, led by Maroon, Gourde, and Cedric Paquette. They did a great job of pressuring Ullmark and the Sabres defenders, but couldn’t beat the Buffalo netminder.

In the dying moments of the second, Point came in with Johnson on a 2-on-1. Point elected to shoot and missed, and the period came to an end with the Sabres down just one goal. The Lightning dominated both faceoffs and puck possession through two periods and finally looked like the team who steamrolled over the entire league last season.

Third Period

Things got physical in the final period! There was good pace to start as both teams returned from intermission flying. Sergachev got hit by a point shot while tied up with Kyle Okposo and struggled to make it to the bench. He did return for his next shift, so he was probably just winded.

Ullmark continued to shine for Buffalo, as he stopped a Cernak drive with Point standing on top of him. Jimmy Vesey drove to the net and spun McDonagh around, but Vasilevskiy stood his ground.

Then things got heated, as Ristolainen drilled Volkov in front of the Lightning bench and a skirmish formed. Palat and Skinner got into it, and they both got coincidental minors for roughing. Ristolainen got a minor for interference, which put the Lightning back on the powerplay. The Sabres killed it off pretty easily, the Bolts struggled to get set up and didn’t test Ullmark too often.

Another Bolts goal! Gourde bounced on a rebound of a Maroon wrap-around shot and buried it past Ullmark with Paquette tying up a Sabres defender in front. Just like that, Tampa Bay’s two goal lead was restored. They led 3-1 with about half of the period to go.

Literally on the ensuing faceoff at center ice, Gourde high-sticked Skinner and he went flying. Lightning players wanted the call for embellishment, but Gourde got the lone penalty. A solid performance from the penalty kill (including a heroic shot block from McDonagh off Victor Olofsson’s shot) helped eat some more time on the clock.

After a good offensive zone shift from the Sabres, Reinhart beat Vasilevskiy with a quick release to bring Buffalo within one. Just prior to the goal, Reinhart’s shot was redirected and trickled through the crease. This time, he made no mistake, as traffic had formed in front of the Bolts goal. Tampa Bay’s lead was cut to 3-2 with eight and a half minutes left.

The referees called a late penalty called on Eichel for tripping Cernak, and the Bolts headed to the power play with under six minutes to go. The Bolts got a couple of good looks late in the man-advantage but couldn’t convert.

Buffalo pulled Ullmark with just over a minute-and-a-half in regulation and set up pretty quickly. They got a couple of close-range shots on Vasilevskiy, but the Bolts cleared the zone. The Sabres couldn’t beat Vasilevskiy one more time and the Lightning won the first game of the Global Series in Sweden, 3-2.

Game Notes

  • Hedman looked no worse for wear in his first game back from injury. He was flying all game long, involved physically, and was one of the Lightning’s best players.
  • Sergachev also played a really solid game, especially defensively. He was confident in his own end, unafraid to play the body, and read and reacted to plays well.
  • For being off for almost an entire week, both teams had a ton of energy throughout the entire game. The pace of the game was high, and there were a lot of back-and-forth chances.
  • Will Kucherov hear from the NHL about his hit on Sobotka (who didn’t return to the game)? Maybe, but whether it’s suspendable is another story. The fact that Sobotka didn’t return is definitely not a good sign, though.
  • Finally, this was the Lightning’s best game of the season so far. They dominated play, every line was involved and contributed, and overwhelmed the Sabres players on almost every shift. If it weren’t for Ullmark’s heroics, the score could very well have been much higher. Maybe there’s something to taking a week off and giving the team a little extra bonding time in a new country. /