Sabres Notebook: Nylander, Ullmark make an impact - The Buffalo News
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Sabres Notebook: Nylander, Ullmark make an impact

TAMPA -- Some young players took good memories out of an otherwise forgettable season finale here Sunday.

Alex Nylander assisted on a William Carrier goal to earn his first NHL point and Linus Ullmark made his first start of the season in goal count with 33 saves in the Buffalo Sabres' 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"It feels better and better every game," said Nylander, who got in four NHL games at the tail of end of his first pro season after being taken by the Sabres in the first round last June in KeyBank Center. "Unfortunately we didn't the get 'W', which was more important but I was able to play my game, which is to skate and make plays."

Nylander found Carrier for the goal that opened the scoring at 13:56 of the first period, sending the winger away on a 2-on-1 break. Carrier beat Andrei Vasilevskiy under the crossbar for his fifth goal of the season and first since January.

"I saw their 'D' and forward was diving down so I tried to make a move to get it to Carrier and we got the 2-on-1," Nylander said. "It's great to get some NHL experience going into next year. I want to have a huge offseason now."

Ullmark's offseason will likely be a preparation to serve as Robin Lehner's backup in Buffalo next year. He got a heavy workload over 53 games in Rochester, which is what the Sabres wanted to see from him after he played 20 games in the NHL last year due mostly to Lehner's high ankle sprain.

"I've very happy. I've been looking forward the whole season to get my chance at this game," Ullmark said. "I missed it a couple times. Now that it's said and done, I'm just sad we don't have any more games."

Ullmark had quite a game going with Tampa Bay winger Jonathan Drouin, making four dynamite saves off one of Tampa Bay's elite players.

"I had to give him some payback," Ullmark said. "Last year I played him in Syracuse he got my number a couple times."

Ullmark was bummed about Brayden Point's fluky game-winning goal with 1:24 left.

"Stuff happens and you just have to look forward to the next shot," Ullmark said. "Sadly this happened late in the third period so there weren't any more shots coming in."

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Tampa Bay ended up missing the playoffs by one point, going 20-6-4 over its last 30 games to finish with 94 points. How thin is the margin in the NHL? The Lightning had 97 points last year -- and made it all the way to Game Seven of the Eastern Conference final before losing to Pittsburgh.

Tampa Bay has played 43 playoff games the last two years, counting last year's finish and its 2015 trip to Game Six of the Stanley Cup final in Chicago. This is its first playoff miss since 2013. The Bolts were eliminated Saturday night by Toronto's win over Pittsburgh

"There was a time in early February where we were not relevant at all and this team found the way to be relevant all the way through Game 81,' said coach Jon Cooper. "There were a lot of teams with a lot of points. We had a couple bad stretches, something we haven't had before. It stings to stand here knowing next time we do this is five months from now. We've been to the playoffs and we know that feeling and it stings we won't be going back there."

The Lightning went 8-1-1 in their final 10 games but will be haunted by their 1-5 record against the league's three worst teams (Arizona, Vancouver and Colorado). They slipped out of a playoff spot Dec. 4 and never got back in one. Captain Steven Stamkos missed the season's final 65 games with a knee injury after collecting 20 points in the first 17 games.

Tampa Bay won just 19 of its first 38 games and spent the entire second half trying to rebound.

"That's got to be a lesson learned for us," said defenseman Victor Hedman. "Obviously you're going to see a hungry, motivated team coming into next year."

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The Sabres did not score on their only power-play opportunity Sunday and went 0 for 8 over their last five games but stil finished atop the NHL at 24.4 percent. It's the first time they've led the league in that category since the 1991-92 season. Buffalo's problem, however, was that it ranked 28th in 5-on-5 goals with just 126.

"Our power play has been good all year long," said coach Dan Bylsma. "That needs to be an indicator of where you are in the standings and we just haven't been able to make that come true."

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The Sabres finished 13-22-6 on the road. Among Eastern teams, only New Jersey was worse (12-23-6). The Sabres were 19-17-5 away from KeyBank Center last year.

Buffalo improved at home, going from 16-19-6 to 20-15-6.

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