Kucherov's YouTube classic burns Sabres in shootout - The Buffalo News
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Kucherov's YouTube classic burns Sabres in shootout

If you stayed to the end Saturday night in KeyBank Center, you saw a goal that will live on highlight reels forever.

Of course, the Buffalo Sabres and their fans weren't that impressed by being on the wrong side of the classic video.

The basics are that Nikita Kucherov beat Robin Lehner with the final goal of a shootout, giving the Tampa Bay Lightning a 2-1 victory over the Sabres. Not only did the Bolts quickly whitewash the Sabres with two goals in two rounds, they got an all-timer of a clincher.

Skating in hard on Lehner, Kucherov waved his stick over the puck to fake a shot and simply let it slide untouched -- right through Lehner's legs and into the net for the clinching goal.

"He did it on purpose," Lehner said. "What can I say? Bad by me, pretty sick by him."

Kucherov's play spread like wildfire on social media within the first hour after the puck slid into the net. The NHL's official feed tweeted the video with the notation: "WARNING: This dangle is simply DISGUSTING" and it had more than 60,000 views in that span.

Reporters looking for insight from Kucherov on the play didn't get much other than a few stares and a few nods. Asked to confirm if the move was on purpose, the 23-year-old Russian who leads the Lightning with 28 goals simply said, "Yes."

But there was plenty of chatter about it elsewhere in the Tampa Bay dressing room, where it was revealed that Kucherov skated past goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and told him he was about to use the move he had often pulled off in practice but had not tried in a game.

Said center Tyler Johnson: "That's a goal that's going to be on YouTube forever."

Added coach Jon Cooper: "He brought the schoolyard to the big stage. That's a schoolyard move for sure. ... I'll tell you though, you better score on that if you're going to do it and he did."

The giddiness in the Tampa Bay room was in stark contrast to the vibe down the hall. Both teams failed to score on an overtime power play, with the Sabres feeling they blew a huge chance to get a goal that would have pulled them even with Tampa in the standings and four points back of the final Eastern Conference wild-card.

It was yet another shootout disaster for Buffalo. The Sabres are 1-6 in the skills competition but had managed to avoid them since Dec. 20 by having seven straight overtime games decided with a goal.

"I thought we had put enough distance from the last shootout that we could start fresh on this one," said coach Dan Bylsma. "It seemed to come fresh back right from the start."

Sure did. Sam Reinhart got in too tight and was stopped by Vasilevskiy. Brayden Point burned Lehner with a snap shot, Jack Eichel was stopped by Vasilevskiy and Kucherov then became a video star. Just like that, it was over.

The Sabres' shootout numbers are astonishingly bad. Their shooters are just 3 for 17, a 17.6 shooting percentage that's 28th in the league. Reinhart is 2 for 5 and the only other goal scored was Cal O'Reilly's clincher that gave Buffalo its lone win, Nov. 17 over Pittsburgh.

At this point, we practice it enough," Reinhart said. "No matter how long you go in between, it's not that big of an issue. We were prepared going into it. It's a tossup. But it's frustrating. We want to be better at it at both ends."

As for the goaltenders, Lehner is 0 for 8. Yes, he has not stopped a single one of eight attempts against him. Backup Anders Nilsson is 4 for 8, with the Buffalo goaltenders' .250 save percentage obviously last in the league. In fact, only Washington (.476) and Dallas (.400) are even below .500.

"It's not a secret I'm not the best at shootouts," Lehner said. "I'm working on it but it's too bad we can't finish the game. It's not hockey you're watching. They have all the time in the world to go fast or slow down. Breakaways I usually save them because they come in one speed. They have to do something. Here they don't. Maybe I have a problem adjusting to speed changes. It's what it is."

The shame of that was that Lehner was strong again, stopping 31 of 32 shots over 65 minutes and making five saves in OT. But it wasn't enough.

"There's not a lot of ways to look at it," Bylsma said. "Tonight is a great example. He was outstanding in the game ... He got us the point. He's got a bit of a riddle, a mystery about him in a shootout."

The Sabres got a goal from Ryan O'Reilly on the power play with 11 seconds left in the first period and gave up Johnson's goal at 2:37 of the second. And that was that until Kucherov made the night's climactic play.

"That's why this is such a great game," Cooper said. "You never know when you're going to see something new and exciting and we saw that tonight."

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