The Tampa Bay Lightning couldn’t score through 40 minutes, but had no trouble doing it in just nine.
Steve Downie and Vincent Lecavalier added a pair of third-period goals nearly 10 minutes apart to bring Thursday’s game against Buffalo to within two, but it was Jason Pominville’s hat trick that set the tone early and lifted the Sabres to a 6-2 win.
Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis combined for three assists, as the Lightning fell for just the sixth time in regulation in the team’s last 19 games at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Pominville scored twice in the opening period and sparked a three-goal first in which Tyler Myers also scored, before capping his hat trick at 19:26 left in regulation.
“It was a very good start. I was impressed with the attention to detail,” goaltender Ryan Miller said. “The guys were competing.”
Miller, who was chased off the ice in his last start after allowing three goals in six minutes, recovered by making 23 saves as Buffalo moved to within four points of overtaking New Jersey for the East’s second playoff spot.
“I was happy to have it [a good performance] tonight. Obviously I didn’t have it in Atlanta and I wanted to get back in the saddle and do my job,” Miller said. “I just wanted to make sure that my level matches my poise and that we’d have a good night.”
The Sabres scored twice at even strength, once on the power play and once shorthanded to snap a three-game losing streak and earn its first win on its five-game road swing. The victory was just the fifth in the last 16.
“It was a good stepping stone for us,” Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff said. “The first 30 minutes we controlled the puck possession and made it tough for them.”
Pominville made it 1-0 on the power play from the high slot with a one-timed shot that beat Antero Niittymaki at 15:19.
“I think our focus was on getting a better start and right off the bat we got the puck in deep and had a few opportunities,” Pominville said.
Buffalo padded the lead when Myers beat Niittymaki through traffic with a slap shot off the draw.
Niittymaki later blocked a breakaway chance at 16:23 on Pominville who skated up the slot before firing a wrist shot off of the net minder’s left pad. He failed to cover though, as the Buffalo winger converted on the second chance to put the Sabres up by three.
“We just looked very nervous and it’s on me,” Tampa Bay head coach Rick Tocchet said. “I thought we were ready to play, but we just looked really nervous.”
Roy scored shorthanded at 9:25 in the second after an odd-man rush was broken up in the slot by Kurtis Foster, who failed to clear the puck as it ended up right back on Roy’s stick and into the back of the net.
“With every game, there’s pressure to win. Some people just get wound up, sometimes you get too wound up, and to me, it looked like for Buffalo that anytime they wanted the puck they got it,” Tocchet added.
Downie got Tampa Bay on the board midway through the final period with a wrist shot off a feed from Stamkos.
Lecavalier cut the deficit to two on the power play after he fired one past Miller from the right circle. Stamkos set up the play when he sent a cross-ice pass on the tape of Lecavalier’s stick before the Lightning captain one-timed his 21st of the season.
“I thought we battled back pretty hard in the third period to at least make it a game,” Foster said. “They came out pretty hard tonight and we were kind of on our heels a little bit.”
Thomas Vanek also added an empty-netter for Buffalo.
“It’s hard, but there are still 12 games and 24 points to be grabbed and I’m not giving up,” St. Louis said. “I don’t think anybody is giving up. No one is going to feel sorry for us and we’ve got to fight until the end, and I believe we will.”
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