Lightning Conclude Homestand With Emotional Win

Tampa Bay wraps up homestand with chippiness and a memorable game

At Amalie Arena on Thursday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning lost Ryan McDonagh on an illegal hit, but they won a hard-fought game 5-4 over the Buffalo Sabres in front of yet another sellout Amalie Arena crowd.

Buffalo came into Amalie as the hottest teams in all of hockey, having won ten straight games on the way in. Goalie Carter Hutton has been a big reason why, putting up a 2.50 Goals Allowed Average in the early NHL season. Even the backup, Linus Ullmark, has been playing out of his mind during the win streak.

Of course, the star players are always the straws that stir the drink, and young Jack Eichel is proving that he deserved his high billing in the 2015 NHL Draft out of Boston University and a Terriers team that came within a bizarre, almost indescribable goalie error of winning a national championship in his lone season on Commonwealth Avenue. The Sabres’ captain came into Thursday night with 28 points in 25 games, including a whopping 23 assists, good for a tie for fifth in the NHL just over a quarter of the way through the season.

The Lightning knew what they were up against, as they were the third team to face the Sabres on Buffalo’s win streak, getting stymied by Hutton throughout the entire game in a 2-1 loss despite a 30-19 lead in shots on the night.

Tampa Bay started the night aggressively, pressing with the forecheck to keep offensive opportunities alive, and it paid off just 2:59 into the game as Dan Girardi found the puck on his stick care of Alex Killorn, fired it in on Carter Hutton, and scored on the ensuing rebound to give the Bolts the early lead. Buffalo rallied back quickly with a pair of goals, the first coming on a rocket of a shot from Rasmus Ristolainen. Buffalo’s second goal, off the stick of Sam Reinhart, bounced off Louis Domingue and went over his shoulder in a bit of a fluke goal.

With Buffalo in front 2-1, J.T. Miller got in alone on Hutton and forced the goaltender well out of the crease. When Miller’s shot bounced off the pads, Alex Killorn found it and scored to tie the game.

It was then that the game took a drastic turn. Jack Eichel, not typically known as a questionable hitter, pushed Ryan McDonagh from behind straight into the boards. It was a textbook boarding penalty, and in all likelihood deserved more than the minor penalty it drew. On most levels of hockey, that kind of hit results in an ejection. The Lightning reacted by fighting with Eichel, and the energy seemed to send them to a new level. They took the lead on a picturesque goal from Nikita Kucherov care of an assist from Brayden Point and all the speed he brings to a hockey game. They also played the angriest hockey the Lightning have played in years, delivering hits and throwing punches in a way that would have made team founder Phil Esposito’s Big Bad Bruins proud. The first period ended with a fight, and a penalty to Buffalo’s Zach Bogosian.

It was Eichel who helped the Sabres tie the game, feeding Sam Reinhart with a pass that was exactly where he wanted it to be. Domingue didn’t have a chance after the pass connected. It was the sort of move that demonstrates exactly why Jack Eichel has no need for dangerous hits from behind. At the time of the goal, McDonagh had still not returned to the ice.

Tage Thompson of the Sabres broke the tie early in the third period when he collected a rebound and fired a shot past Domingue. That was followed in a matter of seconds by a tripping penalty to Buffalo’s Nathan Beaulieu, and a near-immediate goal on the power play from Steven Stamkos in his usual fashion: A blinding shot from the left faceoff circle. The score was tied at 4 just like that.

In the middle of the third period, Buffalo put on a furious charge, putting the Lightning on their heels and taking advantage of the depleted blue line with McDonagh having been injured on the Eichel penalty earlier. Louis Domingue was not having it, making some of his best saves of the season to keep the score tied. With just under six minutes left in the game, it all paid off as Cedric Paquette ripped a shot past Hutton and into the net to make the score 5-4.

McDonagh never came back into the game after Eichel’s hit.  His status moving forward is unclear.

Cooper Changes the Lines

Coach Jon Cooper, out of a combination of wanting to mix things up and needing to with Adam Erne fighting flu like symptoms, changed up the Lightning’s lines on Thursday. Steven Stamkos remained on the top line, now joined by Mathieu Joseph and Yanni Gourde.

The move was another reward for Joseph, who has impressed both Cooper and the Bolts’ organization consistently since preseason. He has been rewarded for hard work and early success, itself sending a message to the other prospects in the organization that the team will reward hard work and strong play.

Palat Returns to Action

Ondrej Palat played his first game since October 26 on Thursday night. He missed sixteen games with a lower body injury.   Tampa Bay eased Palat back into action in his first game back, not putting him in a position to play too many minutes and exhaust himself. He was placed on the

Anton Stralman is still out with an upper body injury and will be re-evaluated on December 5.

Up Next for Bolts

Tampa Bay goes out on the road for a few games, starting with a Saturday night matchup against the Florida Panthers in Sunrise. The three games on the road, including a back-to-back set against New Jersey and then Detroit, is part of a stretch where the Lightning play five games over the course of eight days. The stretch is sure to put the focus on Tampa Bay’s netminders, and should give fans a glimpse of fill-in backup goalie Edward Pasquale.

It has been a rough beginning for the Panthers, who sit at 9-10-4 coming into their Friday night matchup with the Buffalo Sabres. That makes the Lightning the second leg of a back-to-back set that is about as brutal as a pair of games can be with Buffalo flying high and the Lightning affirming their place as one of the league’s best teams.

The Panthers will be without center Vincent Trocheck. One of the Panthers’ best players coming into the season, losing Trocheck is a massive loss for the team outside Miami as they try to rebound from a disappointing first two months.

Tim Williams has been covering sports since his days as a student at Northeastern University covering events such as the Beanpot. In the thirteen years since, he has covered college hockey, the NFL, Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour, and the National Hockey League. A native of the Tampa Bay area, Tim has returned home after living much of his life in the northeast, including sixteen years in the Boston area. These days the Managing Editor of Sports Talk Florida can be found on Florida's golf courses when he's not working.