TAMPA, Fla. -- On a night of firsts, the Buffalo Sabres battled hard to derail the Tampa Bay Lightning's run to first place in the Atlantic Division. In the end, all the work was not enough.
In a game that saw Buffalo's Casey Mittelstadt and Alexander Nylander both score their first NHL goals in the first seven minutes of play, the Lightning rallied with two quick goals in the third period and pulled out a 7-5 win over the Sabres in Amalie Arena.
Anthony Cirelli's second goal of the game, a deflection at 6:15 of the third period, got the Bolts even at 5-5. Tampa Bay took the lead 47 seconds later on Brayden Point's 32nd goal of the season, a one-timed knuckleball that floated over the shoulder of Buffalo goalie Chad Johnson.
Victor Hedman scored into the empty net with 1:26 left on a 195-footer that went the length of the ice and banked in off the post. It came a few seconds after Evan Rodrigues hit the post with a virtually empty net.
The Sabres went into the third period with a 5-4 lead after scoring the final three goals of the second and outshooting the Lightning, 16-5. But it wasn't enough to prevent Buffalo from dropping its third straight game.
Tampa Bay improved to 112 points, two points ahead of Boston. The Lightning finish their season Saturday in Carolina while the Bruins have two games left at home, Saturday against Ottawa and Sunday against Florida.
Rugged start: Johnson looked shaky in giving up three first-period goals. Cirelli opened the scoring for the Lightning after just 30 seconds, taking a Yanni Gourde pass after a bad turnover in the corner from Sam Reinhart.
First of the career I: Mittelstadt got Buffalo even at 2:57 with a wrist shot from the left circle on a power play.
First of the career II: Nylander got the Sabres even at 2-2 with a deflection of a Brendan Guhle shot at 6:32.
You get a first goal!
You get a first goal!
— NHL (@NHL) April 7, 2018
Spirit of 99: In between the rookies' goals, Tampa Bay star Nikita Kucherov scored an unassisted goal at 4:35. It was his 39th goal and 99th point of the season. Kucherov got to 100 with an assist on Dan Girardi's goal at 1:04 of the second period that put the Lightning up, 4-2.
First of the career III: Guhle, who is still looking for his first career goal, had two assists for his first multi-point game.
Super second: The Sabres collected 12 of the final 13 shots on goal and scoring the final three goals of the middle period to erase the two-goal deficit.
Getting closer: Jason Pominville got his 15th of the season at 8:59 of the second, with a screened shot from the point to get Buffalo within 4-3.
Getting even: Jordan Nolan's fourth of the season, a wraparound from behind the net, got Buffalo even at 4-4 with 4:02 left in the second.
Okposo magic: Just like last Saturday's 7-4 win in Nashville, Kyle Okposo scored on a snapshot while on a power-play to break a 4-4 tie. This one came with 1:15 left in the second period and allowed the Sabres to head to the intermission with a 5-4 lead.
On a run: Ryan O'Reilly's assist on Okposo's goal extended his point streak to a season-high five games (three goals, four assists).
Scandy Man Can: Marco Scandella's assist on the Mittelstadt goal was his 17th of the season, topping his previous career high set in 2015-16 with Minnesota. Scandella is now one point shy of tying his career high of 23.
No Stamkos: Tampa Bay played its second straight game without second-leading scorer Steven Stamkos, who will also stay out of the lineup Saturday in Carolina with a lower-body injury. Coach Jon Cooper said the goal is to have Stamkos (27-59-86) back on the ice for practice prior to Game One of the playoffs next week.
Sabres scratches: Benoit Pouliot, Kevin Porter, Josh Gorges and Matt Tennyson were all on hand but were healthy scratches. Linus Ullmark returned for the morning skate after 10 days off due to a concussion.
Up next: The Sabres headed to Sunrise after the game and will close their season against the Florida Panthers in the BB&T Center Saturday night at 7. The Panthers could be eliminated from the wild-card chase before the opening faceoff if Philadelphia gets a point earlier in the day against the New York Rangers.