BUFFALO – For more than half of Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime win, it felt like the Sabres might throttle the Tampa Bay Lightning and cruise to their first victory this season.
In opening up a 2-0 lead by the 15:28 mark, the Sabres had the Lightning on the ropes. But they let their Atlantic Division rival hang around, and the struggling heavyweight tied it with seven seconds left in regulation.
In the end, center Dylan Cozens’ goal 1:46 into overtime secured a much-needed win as the Sabres began a four-game home stand.
“Who wants to win normally?” joked Sabres goalie Devon Levi, who made 21 saves. “Let’s make it more interesting.”
The Sabres, however, never flinched after former Buffalo prospect Brandon Hagel’s second goal of the night tied it with seven seconds remaining in regulation.
“I did love the effort, the focus to get the win,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I felt our guys had that sense of objective the entire game but had to fight really hard and really late to get it. I told them they earned it. They deserved the win by the effort, by the focus and circumstances throughout.
“Lots of different challenges, but they plowed through it.”
While the Sabres had only dropped their first two games, they sorely needed to get on track. In Tuesday’s outing before a crowd of 12,598 fans at KeyBank Center, more of their top players looked like themselves.
Cozens and Skinner each scored their first goals. Winger Alex Tuch created Skinner’s goal. Skinner and center Tage Thompson each pumped five shots on goal.
“Our confidence is there,” Granato said. “And you got to ask yourself, do you need to win to be confident, because if you do, you’re not very confident. And we had won. But I could see our team and our players in practice yesterday and post-game the other day, there’s a confidence in this group in their own capabilities and outcomes, winning specifically.
“They’re very confident they can do that. We come into this game 0-2 but I felt our guys were very in tune and in the moment.”
In their losses to the New York Rangers and New York Islanders last week, the Sabres fell behind 2-0 in the first period both nights. On Tuesday, they pounced on the Lightning.
Winger Zemgus Girgensons opened the scoring at 8:57, grabbing center Tyson Jost’s pass inside the blue line as the Lightning changed before beating goalie Jonas Johansson from the left circle.
Skinner converted defenseman Owen Power’s pass from the point beside Johansson to make it 2-0.
“It was nice to not go down two in the first period this time,” Levi said. “I think we’re a pretty dangerous team when we’re up goals. I think other teams are forced to open up and kind of force on offense.”
Tampa Bay couldn’t generate much offense until the later stages of the second. Hagel’s first goal at the 17:58 mark was just the Lightning’s fourth shot of the period.
“That’s obviously one of the best teams in the league and one of the most offensively skilled, too,” Cozens said. “So to hold them to one goal until seven seconds left with the amount of power plays they had (four), I think that’s really big for us to gain that confidence and show we can beat those teams in most of our games.”
The Sabres defeated the Lightning despite losing defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to an upper-body injury after one shift early in the third period.
“I would expect that he should feel better tomorrow, but we’ll see,” Granato said. “But it doesn’t seem like it’ll be much more than day to day.”