TAMPA — Surprise, surprise. So after a horrible stretch of three straight losses against non-playoff teams, the Buffalo Sabres went shot for shot against the NHL's best Thursday night.
But even the unexpected answer still didn't produce a win.
Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov scored in the shootout to give the Tampa Bay Lightning a 2-1 victory over the Sabres in Amalie Arena. Jack Eichel and Casey Mittelstadt were stopped for the Sabres.
With the loss, the Sabres (28-24-8) dropped their fourth straight game (0-3-1) while Tampa Bay won its eighth in a row. The Lightning have not lost in regulation in February, going 10-0-2. They improved to 47-11-4, pushing their NHL-leading point total to 98. They are on pace for 129, which would be three shy of Detroit's 1995-96 record of 132.
Getting the call: Carter Hutton did yeoman's work in goal for the Sabres, making 39 saves in a game that he was scheduled to serve as the backup. None was bigger than the breakaway he stopped Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Victor Hedman on in the final minute of OT.
The Sabres' plans changed when Linus Ullmark suffered an undisclosed minor injury during the team's optional morning skate. The team announced the injury a few minutes prior to the pregame warmup and Ullmark served as Hutton's backup.
Opening the scoring: The Sabres got the game's first goal at 18:13 of the first period as Rasmus Dahlin netted his seventh of the year on a shot from the left circle that ricocheted off the goalpost and past Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. Jack Eichel earned his 45th assist of the season on the play and tied his career high set last year with his 64th point.
Bolts get even: Tampa Bay capitalized on a Buffalo mistake to get the tying goal as Nikita Kucherov one-timed home a Tyler Johnson pass off a 2-on-1 break at 11:10. The play started when Evan Rodrigues' back pass to Zach Bogosian was in the feet of the Buffalo defenseman and bounced away, sending Tampa Bay off on the break. Dahlin was the lone man back and couldn't block the Johnson pass.
Spirit of 100: The Kucherov goal was his 30th of the season and gave the NHL scoring leader 100 points. That made him the first player in Lightning history to have multiple 100-point seasons. It also made him the first Tampa scorer to hit 30-plus goals and 70-plus assists in the same season. Kucherov is trying to join Hall of Famer Martin St. Louis as the only members of the Lightning to win the Art Ross Trophy as the league's scoring leader.
Another historical footnote: Kucherov became the first NHL player to record 100 points in 62 games or less since Mario Lemieux did it in 61 games for Pittsburgh in 1996-97.
Good work on the PK: The Sabres killed all three penalties against them, no small feat against a Tampa Bay power play that entered the game scoring on 30.2 percent of its chances. That's tops in the league this year and would be the fourth-highest of all time if the figure holds to the end of the season.
Taking a break: Sabres play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret will stay behind for his annual vacation period. He's scheduled to be off for the next six games and return to the mic for the March 7 game in Chicago. As usual when Jeanneret is not at a game at home or on the road, Dan Dunleavy takes over the duties alongside analyst Rob Ray.
Up Next: The Sabres were scheduled to fly back to Buffalo immediately after the game and will practice Friday in HarborCenter. They host the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals for the only time this season Saturday at 1. It will be the final game before Monday's NHL trade deadline.