A temporary change in personnel behind the bench and a commitment to working hard at both ends of the rink paid off in a triumphant homecoming for the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday.
Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis each scored, and assisted on the other’s goal to finish with two points apiece, and Mathieu Garon made 14 saves as the Lightning defeated the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
“We worked extremely hard, made plays and executed,” Stamkos said. “It was a great win for us. It’s always nice to get back in the win column.”
The victory snapped Tampa Bay’s three-game losing skid, and was the first for the team following the dismissal of Guy Boucher prior to Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the Jets in Winnipeg.
Assistant coach Dan Lacroix and player development coach Steve Thomas were behind the bench for the Bolts in Tuesday’s win, although the team introduced Jon Cooper as the team’s next head coach just an hour prior to the puck drop.
Cooper, who has spent the past two and a half seasons with the Lightning’s top minor league affiliate in the American Hockey League, is expected to make his NHL head coaching debut on Friday against the New Jersey Devils.
Jordan Leopold had the lone goal for Buffalo, which saw its three-game win streak come to a screeching halt.
Leopold spoiled Garon’s shutout bid at 16:52 of the final period with a shot from the point that got through and cut the deficit to one, bringing the score 2-1.
That, however, was the only blemish on Garon’s record for the night, as he made several key stops early to set the tone, and finished strong even after the Buffalo goal to preserve the win.
He even denied Buffalo perhaps its best scoring opportunity on the evening when Jason Pominville collected the puck just outside the crease to the right side in the second period. Garon made an excellent cross-ice move to turn back the scoring chance, keeping the Sabres at bay.
“He was great for us tonight,” Stamkos said of his goaltender.
Stamkos opened the scoring at 16:01 of the first when he one-timed a slap shot from the circle that gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead on his league-leading 23rd goal of the year.
Buffalo’s own troubles then contributed to Tampa Bay’s second tally, as a 5-on-3 power play for the Bolts helped them double the advantage after St. Louis beat Ryan Miller up high with a one-timed feed from Teddy Purcell at 8:15 of the second.
Miller made 26 saves on the night, and for the most part, was busy throughout the night as Tampa Bay held a 28-15 shot advantage over the Sabres.
Needless to say, if Tuesday’s game served as an indication, Cooper will have a lot to look forward to on Friday night when he serves behind the Bolts bench for the first time.
Tampa Bay played the role of the aggressor all night, winning the battles for loose pucks and backchecking forcefully. They limited the Sabres to a season-low total in shots on goal.
Buffalo also lost its top scorer, Thomas Vanek, who left the ice during the third period with an upper-body injury and did not return.
“Tonight we started from the get-go and we finished with a solid game,” Stamkos added. “We made plays and it showed out there.”
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