TAMPA, Fla. – Martin St. Louis recorded his 500th career point and Vincent Lecavalier posted a pair of goals and one assist, but the Tampa Bay Lightning were unable to hold off a late comeback by the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night. Led by Jason Pominville, the Sabres skated to a 7-4 victory against the Lightning at HSBC Arena.
In the first night of back-to-back games, the Lightning opened a three-game road trip. As the clubs played their fourth and final match-up of the season, St. Louis posted one goal and one assist and Paul Ranger added a pair of helpers.
Less than three minutes into the game Jeff Halpern posted his 16th goal of the season to open the scoring. After poking the puck away from Derek Roy, Ranger fed a pass ahead to Halpern. The Tampa Bay center skated hard down the left wing before slapping a shot from the top of the circle.
Beating netminder Ryan Miller to the stick side, Halpern extended his point streak to a season-high five games. Tying his career-high, Halpern has recorded four goals and eight points during the stretch.
On an early penalty kill Karri Ramo made a pair of strong saves to keep the Sabres off the board. After Ramo stopped a shot from the left point by Andrej Sekera, Maxim Afinogenov tried to get to the rebound at the side of the net. Afinogenov was unable to connect for a shot before Steve Bernier came in for a second attempt, but Ramo got his glove down to cover the puck and stop play.
Although Miller responded with a pad save on a Lecavalier slap shot from the right circle, St. Louis converted a Lightning power play at 10:36 of the first.
Turning around a feed by Dan Boyle from the point, St. Louis made a backwards, through-the-legs pass to Lecavalier from the top of the slot. Lecavalier returned the puck to Boyle from the right point, setting up a one-timed slap shot. From the slot, St. Louis tipped the shot down to put the puck low to the glove side against Miller.
With the goal, his 24th of the season, St. Louis also extended his point streak to five games. St. Louis has posted seven points (three goals, four assists) during the streak.
Pominville responded for the Sabres less than three minutes later, bringing the score within one with a shorthanded marker. Slapping a shot from the top of the right circle, Pominville put the puck into the top left corner of the net for his first goal of the night.
Within the first minute of the second period, Miller denied a shot by St. Louis at the front of the net. Firing a shot off a centering pass by Jussi Jokinen, St. Louis fired the open shot but Miller made the blocker save.
A few shifts later Lecavalier connected for his first of two goals in the contest.
After St. Louis fought for the puck in the deep left corner, he sent a pass to Jokinen at the left circle. Jokinen sent a pass to Lecavalier at the opposite circle, where the Lightning center held on to the puck before putting a shot over Miller as he stretched across his crease.
Late in the frame Mathieu Darche came to the aid of Ramo with a save at the side of the net. After Afinogenov held Ramo off the puck behind the net, the Buffalo winger passed the puck out to Vanek. As Vanek fired a shot towards the open net, Darche slid into the crease to make a kick save.
A couple of minutes later Lecavalier scored his team-leading 39th goal of the season to extend Tampa Bay’s lead.
Converting a pass by Junior Lessard, Lecavalier skated on a breakaway up the middle of the ice. As Miller went down in his crease and kicked his leg up to block the shot, Lecavalier put the puck between the netminder’s pads for the score.
St. Louis found himself on a second breakaway shortly after the goal, but Miller deflected the high shot up and over the net.
Despite carrying the lead into the final period, the Sabres added six goals to come back and post the win.
Early in the period Miller made a glove save on St. Louis from a few feet to the left of the net, but Pominville and Jochen Hecht scored a pair of goals in 16 seconds to bring the score within one.
After Ramo made a glove save on Hecht to stop play, Paul Gaustad won the ensuing faceoff. Gaustad put the puck to the goal mouth where Pominville tipped the shot up into the net. On the following play, Hecht carried the puck from the corner to the right faceoff dot before putting the puck to the glove side.
A little more than three minutes later Vanek scored his first of three goals to tie the game. Getting a piece of a shot by Roy from the left side boards, Vanek tipped the puck into the far side of the net.
Starting at 13:14 of the frame, Vanek added a pair of goals in less than three minutes to give Buffalo their first lead of the night. After slipping a shot to the left of Ramo for his second goal in the game, Vanek batted a rebound out of the air to complete the hat trick. The final goal stood as Vanek’s team-leading 31st of the season.
With six seconds remaining on the clock, Hecht added an empty-net goal to close out the scoring.
Ramo made 25 saves in the contest as the Sabres out-shot the Lightning, 32-19, and St. Louis led all skaters with five shots. Tampa Bay converted one of three power play opportunities.
With three wins in their previous four games, the Lightning continue their road trip on Thursday, March 20 (7:00p.m., Sun Sports, 620 WDAE) with a match-up against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The game marks the fourth and final game of the season series between the clubs.
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