BUFFALO, N.Y. — It looked like a beautiful chance. Steven Stamkos got the puck in the final minute, faked a shot and slid it over to Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov fired off the shot they wanted for him … and the puck hit the post.
"I made the choice to fake it, and it worked just like you draw it up," Stamkos said after what ended up a 2-1 loss to the Sabres on Tuesday night at KeyBank Center. "Nine times out of 10, that goes in. 'Kuch' hit two posts in the last minute. That was just the way the game was going."
If hockey can be a game of bounces, they weren't on the Lightning's side in the game. Stamkos used the word "frustrated" four times in three minutes in a postgame interview. Kucherov slammed his stick against the glass at the buzzer.
Buffalo's first goal bounced in off Victor Hedman.
Sam Reinhart's shot bounced off Hedman's chest, and the puck landed by goaltender Louis Domingue's skate. Jeff Skinner tapped it in with 2:15 to play in the first period for a 1-0 lead.
That tilted what had been an evenly played first period. Both goaltenders — Domingue and the Sabres' Carter Hutton — made impressive saves, and the period easily could have been 3-3 at that point.
"Some nights you just have to tip your hat to the other goaltender," coach Jon Cooper said. "We did everything we could to win that game. The scoring chances weighed pretty heavily in our favor."
This is the first time this season the Lightning has lost consecutive games. It fell to the Senators 6-4 on Saturday.
"We want to start better," Stamkos said. "It's not an easy league to win in; it's not an easy league to score goals in. So when you're spotting teams a goal or two goals early in the game …
"We know we have it in this room to come back, but you don't want to make that into a trend."
Kyle Okposo gave the Sabres a brief two-goal lead in the second. He made a nice move to pull around Hedman and then beat Domingue five-hole at 5:43.
The Lightning responded quickly. Alex Killorn flipped the puck up the ice to spring Anthony Cirelli on a breakaway. Cirelli smoothly wristed it over Hutton's glove to put the Lightning on the board 15 seconds after Okposo's goal.
Tampa Bay had another strong second period, dominating the possession.
The Lightning outshot the Sabres 14-2 in the period, though each team had one goal to show for it. Tampa Bay didn't seem to carry much momentum into the third from the imbalance, either.
Some of that sustained possession didn't lead to the same kind of good scoring chances. On one almost full minute possession, they were kept to the perimeter and had no strong chances.
For the most part, the Lightning did find chances, but all too often, Hutton had answers.
"It's tough when you fall behind and you keep chasing," Cooper said. "You go down by two, it's a hard league to come back. We have come back in games, but we're not going to come back all the time because of what you saw tonight (from Hutton)."
First Period—1, Buffalo, Skinner 13 (Beaulieu, Reinhart), 17:45.
Second Period—2, Buffalo, Okposo 5 (Sheary, Beaulieu), 5:43. 3, Tampa Bay, Cirelli 3 (Killorn, Gourde), 5:58.
Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 8-14-8_30. Buffalo 11-2-6_19.
Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 1 Buffalo 0 of 1.
Goalies—Tampa Bay, Domingue 3-2-0 (19 shots-17 saves). Buffalo, Hutton 7-6-1 (30-29).
A—15,833 (19,070). T—2:30.
Referees—Peter MacDougall, Kevin Pollock. Linesmen—Shandor Alphonso, Tim Nowak.