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Sabres’ Powerplay Forces Overtime Against Lightning; Wins It 3-2



Buffalo Sabres Tampa Bay Lightning game recap

It wasn’t the most action-packed game, but the Buffalo Sabres found a way to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 in overtime on Thursday. The extra time needed ceded a point to the Lightning, but the Sabres win did reduce their standings deficit to Tampa Bay to 10 points. The victory also comes on a night when the other Wild Card spot occupier – the Detroit Red Wings – also lost.

Must Read: Granato Gets Heated; Sabres Burnt in Florida 3-2

The Lightning struck first a little over eight minutes into the opening period.  Brayden Point found an open seam in the middle of the slot on the powerplay and out-maneuvered Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen to slide the puck into the open net. Alex Tuch responded less than three minutes later, after turning the puck over and recovering it again. His turn-around shot found its way through Andrei Vasilevskiy.

The second period was a bit of a yawn-fest, but the Lightning found a way to leave it up a goal. An odd bounce led to an Erik Cernak point shot that was tipped up and over the shoulder of Luukkonen. It took until over halfway through the third period for the Sabres to earn their first powerplay, and the unit made an immediate impact. Tage Thompson walked up the left flank and ripped a shot through traffic from the top of the circle past Vasilevskiy. The goal was all that was needed to force overtime and earn the initial point.

In overtime, Thompson sped in on a partial breakaway that was foiled but earned another penalty call. Rasmus Dahlin scored on a nifty give-and-go play with Casey Mittelstadt on the ensuing four-on-three, sealing the victory.

Impact Players

This was a weird one for impactful players, as neither goalie stood out, the Lightning’s superstars were held scoreless at even strength, and the Sabres’ most impactful player was benched in the third period. That Sabres player was Peyton Krebs, who to no fault of his own was demoted to the fourth line to begin the game. Head coach Don Granato said the decision to shuffle the lines was “for matchup reasons”. He reiterated it was very specific to Thursday’s game.

Still, when Krebs was on the ice, the Sabres generated 79% of the shot attempts and 80% of the shot quality over the Lightning per Evolving-Hockey. This has been a theme for the Sabres center recently, regardless of who he’s played with. The numbers render Granato’s decision to sit Krebs in favor of “guys that were going” to be unmerited.

The Difference

Buffalo’s powerplay has struggled all season, but the special teams unit saved the Sabres on Thursday. With 9:39 left in the third period, the Lightning took their first penalty of the game. The Sabres scored on the ensuing powerplay and added another powerplay goal in overtime to go two for three on the night overall. It was a breath of fresh air for the team, as puck movement and traffic in front finally seemed to be in sync.

An average powerplay, combined with the consistent five-on-five numbers and quality goaltending from Luukkonen, could vault the Sabres to a playoff-caliber team. They’ve likely dug themselves too big of a hole now, but it’s been the missing piece for the team’s success.

What’s Next

A home doubleheader is coming at you this weekend, as the Sabres host the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday and the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday. Former Sabre Jack Eichel ditched his red no-contact jersey Wednesday in preparation to return from injury and play this weekend. Saturday could be his first game back since January 11th, as the Golden Knights went 9-7-2 in his absence. Vegas has struggled as of late, winning only two of their last eight games.