BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Ondrej Palat had a goal and three assists, and the Tampa Bay Lightning reclaimed the Eastern Conference lead with a 5-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night.
Nikita Kucherov scored twice and added an assist, and linemate Tyler Johnson set up three goals for Tampa Bay (24-11-4), which is one point ahead of the New York Islanders. Matthew Carle and Anton Stralman had two assists in helping the Lightning improve to 2-3-2 in their past seven road games.
Tyler Ennis scored the lone goal for Buffalo (14-21-3), which dropped to a 1-5-1 in its past seven. The Sabres slump has coincided with a series of injuries and illnesses that have depleted the roster.
Captain Brian Gionta (upper body), defensemen Tyler Myers (lower body) and Rasmus Ristolainen (illness) were among the regulars not in the lineup.
The Lightning, who never trailed, outshot the Sabres 14-1 in the third period and 25-11 overall. A sarcastic cheer went up when Matt Moulson recorded Buffalo’s first shot of the third with 4:41 left in the period.
Tampa Bay broke the game open by scoring four times in the final 21 minutes. Palat scored the go-ahead goal during a power play with 58 seconds left in the second period.
Tyler Johnson drove up the right boards and drew all four Sabres players his way. Johnson slid a pass into the left circle, where Palat snapped a rising shot that beat Jhonas Enroth.
Connolly and Kucherov scored 3:20 apart in the third, and Kucherov finished the rout with 1:55 left.
Connolly’s goal 5:20 into the third came 9 seconds after the Sabres killed a power-play.
Anton Stralman’s slap shot from the right point hit Connolly in front, and the puck ricocheted off Sabres defenseman Nikita Zadorov, who was facing the net. The puck bounced back into the crease, where Connolly stuffed it inside the left post.
The Lightning went 1 for 3 with the man-advantage. They have scored power-play goals in consecutive games after going 0 for 21 during a five-game drought.
The teams traded goals five minutes apart in the first period.
Carle opened the scoring 7:48 in when he one-timed Palat’s pass.
Ennis responded with a power-play goal when his slap shot from the right side hit defenseman Victor Hedman’s stick and bounced in past Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Vasilevskiy played his fourth NHL game, a day after being called up from AHL Syracuse. He was filling in for starter Ben Bishop, who is day to day after aggravating a lower-body injury.
NOTES: With Lightning D Radko Gudas day to day with a lower-body injury, Nikita Nesterov made his NHL debut after being called up earlier Wednesday from Syracuse. He was leading Syracuse defensemen with 14 points (three goals, 11 assists) in 32 games. … Sabres D Tyson Strachan returned after missing five games with a lower-body injury. … The Lighting kicked off a four-game road trip.
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