Hutton stops 29 shots in Sabres’ 2-1 win over Lightning
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Frantic as the final minute appeared, Buffalo Sabres goalie Carter Hutton reveled in the challenge of staring down Nikita Kucherov and the high-scoring Tampa Bay Lightning.
“It was mayhem,” Hutton said after stopping 29 shots to preserve a 2-1 win over the Eastern Conference-leading Lightning on Tuesday night.
“Truthfully, you embrace the battle,” he added. “You get to show what you’re made of and it was fun.”
It was a lot more fun for him after Kucherov hit the same post twice in the final 30 seconds from essentially the same spot in the lower right circle. The second opportunity came when Steven Stamkos fed a pass through the middle to Kucherov, whose one-timer hit the post and caromed wide just before the final buzzer.
No problem, Hutton said with a wide grin. He had the angle covered.
Jeff Skinner scored his team-leading 13th goal and Kyle Okposo also scored, and the suddenly resurgent Sabres won their third straight. Defenseman Nathan Beaulieu had two assists, and Buffalo improved to 10-6-2 for its best start since opening 11-7 in 2011-12.
Anthony Cirelli scored for the Lightning, who lost consecutive games for the first time since an 0-3 skid from March 24-29 last season. Lightning backup Louis Domingue finished with 17 saves.
After slamming his stick on the glass as the game ended, Kucherov’s frustrations carried over into the locker room upon being reminded of his two missed opportunities.
“My thoughts? It (stinks) when you don’t score,” he said. “Sometimes it happens. It happened today. For us, forget this game as soon as possible and move forward.”
The Sabres limited the NHL’s top offense to one goal after Tampa Bay had scored four or more in each of its past five games.
Skinner opened the scoring with 2:15 left in the first period, when he was parked in front and converted a rebound after Domingue stopped Sam Reinhart’s shot from the top of the right circle.
The Sabres somehow matched the Lightning in scoring one goal apiece in the second period despite being outshot 14-2.
Hutton held the fort in making numerous clutch stops starting from the opening minute, when he foiled Stamkos driving in alone across the front.
Okposo put Buffalo up 2-0 at the 5:43 mark of the period when he used defender Victor Hedman as a screen and scored on a low shot from the right circle that fooled Domingue.
The Lightning responded 15 seconds later, when Alex Killorn flipped a pass from his own blue line and over two Sabres defenders, including a leaping Rasmus Dahlin. The puck landed on the stick of Cirelli, who scored on a breakaway by beating Hutton high on the glove side.
The Sabres’ three-game winning streak is their second of the season. Buffalo won three straight just once a year ago, when the team finished last in the NHL standings for the third time in five seasons.
Though relieved to pull out the win, Okposo said the Sabres were too passive in trying to nurse the one-goal lead.
“We were on our heels a little too much,” he said. “We weren’t sharp. We’ve got to clean up some stuff. I know we’ve won the last three games, but we probably only played real good for a period and a half.”
Okposo then laughed when asked if he would’ve complained after a three-game winning streak last season.
“Yeah, probably not,” he said. “But our standard’s higher this year.”
NOTES: Lightning D Erik Cernak made his NHL debut after being called up from Syracuse of the AHL earlier in the day. The 21-year-old replaced Anton Stralman, who missed his second game with an upper-body injury. ... The Sabres are 6-2-1 at home, a year after matching a franchise low with 11 home wins. ... Sabres C Patrik Berglund was a healthy scratch, with C Zemgus Girgensons returning after being a healthy scratch against Vancouver on Saturday. ... Lightning LW Adam Erne left the ice holding his jaw after being struck by a shot from teammate Ryan Callahan with 6:44 left in the second. Erne returned before the period was over.
Lightning: Continue four-game road trip at Pittsburgh on Thursday night.
Sabres: Open three-game road trip at Winnipeg on Friday night.