Lightning (33-16-5, 71 Points) vs. Sabres (24-22-5, 53 Points)
Last 10: Tampa Bay (7-3-0); Buffalo (6-4-0)
Season Series: Tampa Bay is seeking its third straight win over Buffalo this season after taking the first two meetings, one in each team’s home arena, on Nov. 20 and Dec. 18. Mike Smith, reassigned to Norfolk of the American Hockey League on Saturday, was in goal for both victories and allowed just a single goal in each.
The Big Story: After having its six-game win streak snapped Friday night against Washington, Tampa Bay is back on the winning trend. The Lightning earned their seventh win in the last eight games Sunday, making them just the fourth team this season to push past the 70-point barrier in the standings.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay has opened its 12-game home stand with four wins out of five games played to this point, with the most recent coming Sunday against St. Louis. Teddy Purcell and Simon Gagne saw their respective four-game point streaks fade, but Brett Clark assisted on Steven Stamkos’ league-leading 40th of the year to reach a career-high point streak of his own which also spans four games. Stamkos’ game-opening goal made him just the second player in franchise history to record back-to-back 40-goal seasons, following Vincent Lecavalier. Guy Boucher praised the young center following the game, acknowledging Sunday’s performance was his best game of the season, as he tied a single-game season-high with four points. Lecavalier went on to score the game-winning goal in overtime with seven seconds remaining, as the Bolts won their 12th game out of the last 15 at home.
SABRES – Buffalo plays the first of a two-game road set tonight that also sees the Sabres traveling south to Florida to take on the Panthers on Thursday. The Sabres have won 9 of the first 14 games to open the 2011 calendar year and come in 5-2-0 in their last seven games. The reason for the team’s success has been, in part, thanks to a high-scoring offense that has scored at least four goals in three of the club’s last four games. The Sabres put up six in the team’s most recent win, a victory on Saturday against the Maple Leafs. Drew Stafford notched a pair of goals and four other players scored for Buffalo, which took a 5-1 lead into the third period for finishing off the Leafs with an additional tally in the third.
Who’s Hot: Teddy Purcell and Simon Gagne saw four-game point streaks come to an end on Sunday, but nonetheless Purcell has four goals and nine points in his last five games, while Gagne has notched seven points in his last five as well. Defenseman Brett Clark comes in riding a career-high four-game point streak with a goal and three assists in that span. Buffalo’s Paul Gaustad and Rob Niedermayer each have three points in their last two contests and Mike Grier has a goal and an assist in his last two as well.
Injury Report: LIGHTNING – Ryan Malone (lower body, day-to-day), Nate Thompson (upper body, day-to-day) and Mike Lundin (mid-body, day-to-day). SABRES – Derek Roy (leg, out for the season) and Patrick Kaleta (broken hand).
Notable Quotable: “He was flying out there, demanding the puck and really driving the boat. So to me, this by far was his best game of the year. He’s had other games where he had points and some really good games and great flashes, but I think all around if you look at the maturity of a 20-year-old, this is probably his biggest leap in terms of leadership and pulling the boat.” – Guy Boucher, commenting on the play of star center Steven Stamkos
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