Sri Lanka struck twice before lunch to reduce New Zealand to 96 for two at the break on the opening day of the second Test in Colombo.
The hosts, fresh from their thumping 10-wicket win in the first meeting, got off to a flying start and had their opponents 14 for two in the fourth over.
But captain Ross Taylor, who was on 49, and Kane Williamson (38) steadied the ship to bring the tourists back into the match.
Martin Guptill was the first batsman to go in the final ball of the first over when he edged a Nuwan Kulasekara delivery to Angelo Mathews at first slip for four.
Fellow opener Brendon McCullum was dismissed for the same score, falling lbw to Shaminda Eranga while playing across the line.