It was not the prettiest of games, but the Tampa Bay Lightning will take the 3-2 win against division-rival, the Buffalo Sabres, on Saturday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Taking an early 1-0 advantage, the Bolts let the Sabres hang around just enough to steal the lead in the final minutes of play. Tampa Bay kept their composure though and responded with two unanswered goals less than two minutes apart for a 3-2 final that ends their season-long homestand with a 5-2-0 mark.
“A win like tonight is what makes you in this league,” Martin St. Louis said. “Good teams find a way to win. It’s not always going to be perfect, we’re not looking for perfection, we’re looking for results.”
While walking away with the loss, Buffalo netminder Ryan Miller was the X-factor in the contest for the Sabres, stopping 36 of the Lightning’s season-high 39 shots in the losing effort.
“I know it was a frustrating game, but we were doing well in the shots, we just couldn’t get them by Miller,” St. Louis said. “We had a lot of looks it just kind of wears on you when a goalie steps up like that. I thought we stuck with it and we got rewarded.”
“We finally got two past Miller in a very opportunistic time,” head coach Jon Cooper said. “We had some grade-A chances and I thought Miller was outstanding in the game.”
The first tally came 13 minutes into the first period with the Lightning taking a 1-0 advantage on the power-play against the Sabres. Valtteri Filppula took the initial shot, which the Sabres Tyler Myers tried to clear. He was unable to get a piece of the puck on his stick however, as Johnson quickly grabbed it and swiped the rebound past Buffalo netminder Miller stick side at 12:48. Matt Carle picked up the secondary assist, his second point in as many games.
At nearly the same time the Bolts scored in the first period, the Sabres scored in the second to tie the game at one goal apiece. Tampa Bay’s Eric Brewer could not clear the puck in front of Bishop and Buffalo’s Cody McCormick came up with the puck. McCormick passed across the crease to Brian Flynn, who dumped it into an unguarded net for a 1-1 score.
Then with 7:14 left in regulation, Thomas Vanek gave the Sabres their first lead, 2-1, of the game. Marcus Foligno skated down the slot in front of Bishop and fed a quick pass to the left of his net where Vanek squeezed the puck between Bishop’s arm for the go-ahead goal. Vanek now has 39 points (24 goals, 15 assists) in 33 games against the Lightning.
“They just have this ability to turn the page,” Cooper said. “That was a big thing on the bench. They got one, now we need to get the next one. It was big time players making big time plays when we needed them.”
Less than two minutes later, Martin St. Louis came up huge with a one-timer that beat Miller to the back of the net. Radko Gudas started the play from the top of the blueline, sending a pass to Steven Stamkos. Stamkos fed the puck across the ice to St. Louis who took the shot from the right face-off circle to knot the game at two.
Ondrej Palat then helped the Bolts take the lead with just 4:05 remaining in the contest. After a scramble in front of the net, Palat controlled the puck with his skate, kicking it to his stick. He then took a shot that found its way through traffic and past Miller for the 3-2 lead at 15:55 of the final frame that eventually became the game-winner.
“I had the puck in the corner and I passed to Tyler and he shot it and there was a rebound that hit my skate, so I just put it in the net,” Ondrej Palat said. “It was a great feeling, it was perfect.”
UP NEXT – Tampa Bay heads to Sunrise, Florida tonight to prepare for the second game of back-to-backs Sunday against division rival the Florida Panthers. It also marks the first game of a three-game road trip that also includes the New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes.
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