Jake McCabe (19) and Marcus Johansson (90) were dejected Tuesday. ©2020, Micheline Veluvolu

Stunner: Sabres blow three-goal lead, fall to Lightning

BUFFALO – Halfway through Tuesday’s shocking 6-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Sabres captain Jack Eichel showcased why he might be underutilized as a penalty killer.

With the Sabres up 3-1, Eichel pounced on a loose puck in his own zone and zoomed down the ice. When the slick center hit the right circle, he undressed defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk before skating through the slot and backhanding a shot by goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy for his first NHL short-handed goal.

The goal ignited Eichel, who celebrated wildly, and the crowd of 18,465 inside KeyBank Center, which was still buzzing from watching Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe fight Mikhail Sergachev after the defender hit Eichel.

But within minutes, the Sabres would be reeling.

“We have momentum and then we piss the game away,” a curt Eichel said following the Sabres’ fourth straight loss and seventh in eight games (1-6-1).

The Sabres began imploding during a power play minutes later. Instead of seizing an opportunity to grab a commanding lead, center Marcus Johansson was whistled for hooking after giving the puck away.

“That penalty definitely did it, shifted the momentum,” Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said.

Then Tampa Bay’s talented forwards took over. Alex Killorn scored on the ensuing power play at 13:57. Tyler Johnson followed at 16:55.

Shattenkirk tied the game 6:20 into the third period, exacting some revenge after looking silly earlier. Then Killorn’s second goal at 8:08 gave put the Lightning up.

The Sabres lost all four of their meetings with the Lightning this season and have dropped 20 of the last 24 games against their Atlantic Division rival.

“We definitely came out and played the game we wanted to play,” Krueger said. “It’s the story of two halves. That first half was very disciplined and we didn’t give up much. … More than anything, we were on our toes, we were playing aggressive, we took away the space that Tampa likes to have, and the last 26, 27 minutes (are) just unacceptable. It’s going to take a little longer to digest here, a few hours.”

Johansson said: “It’s just tough to swallow right now.”

So now what? The Sabres, a fragile team with a recent history of enduring some long losing streaks, need a quick response. They host the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday.

Right now, exactly halfway through the season, the Sabres are 17-17-7. Their 41 points rank sixth in the Atlantic Division, five points behind the third-place Lightning, which has three games in hand.

What can help the Sabres break out of this rut?

“It’s details,” said Johansson, who played for the Stanley Cup last year with the Boston Bruins. “It’s when you’re up 4-1, 4-2, 4-3 or whatever it is, just keep playing the same way. You can’t sit back too much and be scared of playing and start thinking you can do whatever you want, either, because you’re leading.

“So you just got to find ways to win, get that winning mentality. I feel like we’re on the right path. We’re playing some really good hockey. Games like these, we got to find ways to close it out.”

Converting some power plays would help. So would shooting.

The Sabres are zero of 14 over the past five games and just two of 18 in the past seven contests.

“You could even hear it from the crowd,” Krueger said of the plea for shots. “We definitely gotta put pucks on the net. There is a lot of control, there is a lot of O-zone time there, and without shots, you’re not going to get any fruit of the labor of the power play. And the shots have to hit the net, right?

“It (just) looks like (we’re) squeezing it, trying too hard, forcing it.”

Eichel said of the power play: “Same story. Nothing new. You guys saw it.”

The Sabres had a few bright spots Tuesday. Johansson, Conor Sheary and Jimmy Vesey all scored.

All three forwards have been struggling to produce offense.

McCabe’s retaliation was also notable. In the two earlier meetings, the Sabres let the Lightning get away with injuring two Sabres regulars – forward Vladimir Sobotka and defenseman Rasmus Dahlin – with dirty hits.

“That’s what we need to see from the team, of course,” Krueger said of McCabe’s response. “We’ve had a strange series against Tampa this year with the physicality, but it was good to see Jake step up there. We know he’s got it in him.

“He did get an instigator for the talking, but it was important that he did that.”

Winger Dalton Smith, a tough guy the Sabres signed to an NHL contract Monday and brought up just for this game, skated just one minute, 26 seconds over four shifts. He didn’t play after the second period.

Smith tried fighting Lightning defenseman Luke Schenn, but an official broke it up. On his way out of the penalty box following his roughing minor, the Sabres scored.

So Smith earned a plus rating in his NHL debut.

3 thoughts on “Stunner: Sabres blow three-goal lead, fall to Lightning”

    SHALOM ! Fr Pat Ipolito

  2. Sabres are in another yearly slump. Is the problem coaching again? Kruger states that they need to shoot more on the PP. So coach Kruger take the time during practice and teach these players that this isn’t the ice capades its the NHL and you can only score when you shoot the puck. How many times do they pass and pass and pass until the other team gets the puck and shoots it down the ice. Dahlin had many opportunities to shoot and kept passing the puck against TB.
    This guy was touted as the second coming of Bobby Orr. Are you kidding??
    just an average Dman at best.
    Goal tending is embarrassing Hutton couldn’t stop a beachball let alone a puck.
    Ullmark will make a few great saves only to let a couple of soft goals every game. Sabres need to go out and pay for a real goalie next year.
    You look around the league and see guys drafted by other teams. They are big and tough. Sabres scouts seem to like finesse players 5′ 10 and 170lbs. that can’t come out of the corners with the puck and never stand up and fight.
    We know the time of the goon is over but every team in the NHL (except Sabres) gets it that you need 2 or 3 guys that will retaliate when a teammate gets run.
    Sabres finally bring up a tough guy (Smith) it only took them 10 years.
    My prediction is that sabres will not make the playoffs in the next 5 years. They need a complete rehaul and need to bring in some players with a little grit and meanness.

  3. It’s becoming harder and harder to remain an active sabres fan…Every year, I’m always upbeat of the new acquisitions and roster moves; except this year, our GM failed to address the overcrowding on the D line and the underpowered Offense; coupled with the resigning of Girgen and Larrrson, whom are only good for eating ice time. Why resign forwards who can’t score?? Many questionable decisions by Botts this past offseason. Krueger is a breath of fresh air… too bad we can’t find players that are capable of shooting the puck and hitting the net. How many missed shots did Buffalo have vs Tampa? Too many to count. Why can the fans see all of these problems but the players, coaches and management are mystified?? Perhaps, Buffalo should stop relying on playing bottom six forwards in top 6 roles!!! …another gut wrenching season…2020 decade must get better for this team or the fans will leave their support at the door for good.

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