Lightning (44-24-11, 99 Points) at Sabres (40-29-10, 90 Points)
Last 10: Tampa Bay (6-2-2); Buffalo (6-2-2)
Season Series: The Lightning and Sabres will wrap up the four-game season series tonight in Buffalo. Tampa Bay holds a two-games-to-one advantage over Buffalo after winning each of the first two meetings on Nov. 20 and Dec. 18. The Sabres fought back to gain a game on the Bolts, however, in the team’s most recent meeting, earning a 7-4 win in Tampa Bay on Feb. 8.
The Big Story: Tampa Bay comes into tonight’s contest on a five-game win streak, its longest since it won six straight from Jan. 18 to Feb .1. With 99 points, the Bolts are not only just one point away from reaching the 100-point plateau for just the second time in franchise history, but also find themselves one point back of fourth-place Pittsburgh for home ice advantage through the first round of the postseason.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay plays for the second-to-last time on the road tonight before coming home to play the division-rival Panthers on Friday night. Tampa Bay will then conclude the regular season with a road game in Carolina on Saturday. The Lightning have certainly turned things around since enduring a 2-6-4 stretch that lasted the majority of March. Tampa Bay has won five straight, including one win that clinched a playoff berth, which has them riding high into the final stretch of the regular campaign. The club extended its hot streak Sunday night behind a 31-save effort by Mike Smith, who earned his first shutout in over a year. Vincent Lecavalier and Nate Thompson provided all the offense needed, as the Lightning swept the defending Stanley Cup champions in the season series for the first time since the 1997-98 season.
SABRES – Buffalo will host the Lightning in the first of two home games before wrapping up its regular season campaign on the road in a matchup with the Blue Jackets on Saturday. The Sabres have won six of their past nine games and have points in two of the three that it did not win. The late season surge has Buffalo sitting in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 90 points, just three ahead of ninth-place Carolina. The club gained some ground on the team chasing them, as it defeated the Hurricanes 2-1 in overtime on Sunday. Chris Butler and Marc-Andre Gragnani scored for the Sabres, who surrendered a one-goal lead in the second period which allowed Carolina to tie the game and send the contest into overtime. Gragnani’s winner came when he fired a wrist shot from the boards that appeared to ricochet off the sticks of two Carolina skaters and past goalie Cam Ward at 2:56 of the extra session.
Who’s Hot: Martin St. Louis (4g-5a-9p) and Simon Gagne (4g-6a-10p) each come in riding six-game points streaks for the Lightning. Vincent Lecavalier also has 25 points in his last 25 games, including 13 goals in that span, including eight on the power play. Buffalo’s Tim Connolly has collected four points in his last five games. Drew Stafford also has four goals and four assists in his past six games, and Thomas Vanek has three goals and two assists in his past six contests.
Injury Report: LIGHTNING – Randy Jones (lower body, out indefinitely), Vincent Lecavalier (eye injury, day-to-day) and Eric Brewer (lower body, day-to-day). SABRES – Ryan Miller (upper body, day-to-day), Jordan Leopold (finger), Derek Roy (quadriceps), Patrick Kaleta (knee), Mike Grier (knee) and Jochen Hecht (upper body).
Notable Quotable: “Every win is rewarding, but this was the defending Stanley Cup champions, so to beat a team like that, it’s definitely a little bit more rewarding. But this is obviously a big win for our team.”
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