BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Striving to make their long-awaited postseason return, the Sabres beat a perennial Stanley Cup contender for the second time in 10 days.
Tage Thompson scored his 42nd goal and tallied an assist, Jeff Skinner matched him with a goal and an assist, and the Sabres had another offensive explosion wearing their retro “goat head’ jerseys in Saturday’s 5-3 win against the Lightning at KeyBank Center.
Jack Quinn also scored, giving the rookie four points in four games on the Sabres’ top line with Thompson and Skinner. The other goals came from Vinnie Hinostroza and Tyson Jost, and Eric Comrie made 33 saves for his fourth consecutive win, as Buffalo bounced back from its most lopsided loss of the season Thursday night in Boston for its second win this season against Tampa Bay, champions of the Eastern Conference in each of the past three seasons.
“We needed a big response after our last game against Boston,” said Thompson, who wore a Buffalo Fire Department hat in the locker room postgame. “I think we were on our heels a little bit last game and I think tonight coming in we just wanted to make sure that no matter what happened, whether they get a push or not, we’re stepping on the gas the whole time.
The Sabres (32-25-4) matched their win total from last season, and with 68 points in the standings, they remained within three points of the Penguins, with one fewer game played, and four points behind the Islanders, with four games in hand, for the wild-card playoff spots in the East.
“I think it just shows we’re making good strides,” said Thompson, who has tallied 12 points in his past nine games against the Lightning, and 13 points in the past nine games of this season. “We’re getting better every day and that’s all you can really ask for. I think that’s kind of been our M.O. from the start of the year, just take it a day at a time and try to get better and I think the results will take care of themselves. That’s what we’re seeing now. We’re starting to win games and win games against good teams. We found ourselves in a good spot here in March trying to find a way into playoffs and I think everyone’s excited for that, so we just got to keep pushing.”
Following a 6-5 overtime win at Tampa Bay on Feb. 23, Buffalo has now beaten the Lightning in consecutive games for the first time in five seasons, and after losing 11 of the previous 12 matchups.
The Sabres also improved to 8-0-1 this season when wearing their throwback sweaters, with an average of six goals scored in the eight victories.
Alex Killorn scored twice for the Lightning, and Brian Elliott stopped 29 shots in a chippy contest, the last of four this season between the Atlantic Division teams.
“There was a lot to fight through,” Sabres coach Don Granato said, “to make sure we were steadfast and how we wanted to play with pace and pressure, and a lot of things that could’ve caused ups and downs and distractions, I commend our guys staying very dialed in. Because we needed that win. And I think our room knew we needed that win.”
The game quickly got away from Tampa Bay after Point opened the scoring with a power-play goal with 6:32 left in the first period.
Thompson tied it with his NHL-leading 20th first-period goal 2 1/2 minutes later, and Buffalo broke it open in the second. Skinner’s power-play goal 53 seconds into the third lifted the Sabres to a 5-1 lead.
Hinostroza snapped a 1-1 tie 5:35 into the second after he was set up by Casey Mittelstadt, who outmuscled Killorn for the puck behind the Lightning net. Jost converted a 3-on-2 break for a short-handed goal at 12:30, and Quinn scored from the right circle with 14 seconds left.
The Sabres took advantage of their speed, consistently beating Tampa Bay to loose pucks, and refused to back down when challenged by the more physical Lightning.
The second period featured a skirmish between Skinner and Anthony Cirelli, and a fight in which Lightning forward Tanner Jeannot knocked down and bloodied Sabres defenseman Riley Stillman.
“I think frustration probably settled in a little bit for them,” Thompson said. “They got running around a bit and obviously Stilly stands up big there, big fight and I think that kind of settled the game back down. That was big on him and sets the tone for the rest of the game. It allowed us to just kind of settle in and get back to our game.”
Stillman, skating in his second game with the Sabres after being acquired in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks, left the game after the fight. Granato indicated postgame that Stillman avoided serious injury.
“We’ll follow up with more details but just in seeing him after the game walking around here, interacting with teammates, he appears to be pretty normal,” Granato said. “I know that he got in that fight and I can tell you right now learning his personality and learning more about him he wanted to do it for his team and his teammates. He’s in a new place, new fans, new environment and he went into that and I don’t think he was thinking about himself one bit. I think that’s where he got caught. He probably could have defended himself, thought of defending a little better in that fight. He just wanted to go. He was excited about it and the adrenaline got the best of him. The intent and intention was outstanding for him.”
Buffalo’s next game is at home Monday night against Edmonton and the NHL’s leading scorer, Connor McDavid. The Sabres then travel to play the Islanders on Tuesday in game that will be pivotal to their playoff pursuit.
Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.