Vasilevskiy, Lightning throttle Sabres
BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Tampa Bay Lightning went back to basics to snap a rare losing streak.
Andrei Vasilevskiy made 34 saves to lead the Lightning to a 2-0 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night. Defensemen Mikhail Sergachev and Dan Girardi scored for the Lightning, who won with workmanlike goals from the back end instead of their usual flashy offense.
The Lightning (17-5-2) had lost two in a row and three of four leading up to the Sabres game — a rarity for the Eastern Conference leaders.
“I think when you’re on a little bit of a slide we’re just trying to get back to the basics, keep it simple, get pucks to the net and get some of those dirty goals,” Lightning center Tyler Johnson said. “You need those goals and that’s what wins hockey games later in the year and that’s what wins hockey games in playoffs. They’re not always going to be pretty but we’ve got to get them any way we can.”
It was the second shutout of the season and the sixth of his career for Vasilevskiy, who leads the NHL in wins with 16.
“He’s given us a lot of confidence,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. “The way he’s been playing at the end of last year and the beginning of this season, it’s been remarkable and he’s established himself as one of the best goalies in this league.”
Sergachev opened the scoring with 3:31 remaining in the first with a blast from the back end on the power play. Sergachev’s shot made it through traffic for his sixth goal of the year.
Girardi made it 2-0 with 7:52 remaining in the second on a shot from the right point. Girardi’s long shot deflected off Sabres defenseman Marco Scandella’s skate into the net for Girardi’s first goal of the season.
“Our last couple games we just weren’t getting shots on net,” Johnson said. “That’s one thing we talked about, just trying to get that one pass and puck to the net and I think you can see on (Girardi’s) goal that’s all it was ... we definitely were trying to do that more often today.”
Robin Lehner made 24 saves for the Sabres (6-15-4), whose struggles continued. Buffalo has one win in its past 10 games, a 3-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Nov. 24. The Sabres were also shut out in their last game, 3-0 to Montreal on Saturday.
“It’s a funny game when you go through difficult times,” Sabres coach Phil Housley said. “You’re playing the top team in the East and you’re coming away 0-0. The game is going sort of the way you want it to go ... I think the bottom line is we outchanced a team, we outshot a team but I just don’t think we’re making it difficult enough on the other goaltender.”
“We’ve got to find a way to make it more difficult and we’ve got to get in the trenches and get a dirty goal. When’s the last time we got one of those? We’ve just got to simplify that part of our game.”
The Sabres pulled Lehner with more than four minutes remaining but were unable to score with the extra attacker.
Vasilevskiy’s best moments came with just over two minutes remaining when he stopped Matt Moulson and Evander Kane from close range.
The Sabres received a break after it looked like top defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen suffered a potentially serious injury. After being hit into the Tampa Bay net by Braydon Coburn, Ristolainen was in noticeable pain and immediately went to the locker room. He returned at the start of the third period, however, and played the rest of the game.
“He got a little stinger there but he was fine coming back,” Housley said. “He’s the one guy that did show emotion tonight and coming back after that he’s moving in the right direction.”
NOTES: LW Matt Moulson returned for the Sabres after being a healthy scratch in six consecutive games. Moulson has no points in 13 games this season. ... C Jacob Josefson (ankle) and D Josh Gorges (healthy) were scratched for the Sabres. Josefson had recently returned and was playing well before suffering an ankle injury that is expected to keep him out 4-to-6 weeks. ... RW J.T. Brown was scratched for the Lightning. ... This was the first of four meetings this season. The next encounter is Feb. 13 in Buffalo. ... Tampa Bay swept the four-game series last season.