The NHL league office might want to consider sending a memo to the other 29 clubs: don’t bring a three-game win streak into Tampa Bay.
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Two days after snapping the New York Islanders’ stretch of three consecutive victories, the Tampa Bay Lightning did the same thing to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night after earning a 3-0 shutout in front of a sellout crowd of 19,204 at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Mathieu Garon also made 21 saves for Tampa Bay to earn his 20th career shutout.
“I don’t play for shutouts,” Garon said. “A win is a win though, and we got it tonight.”
After scoring at least three goals in each of its games heading into Saturday, Buffalo failed to get even one against Tampa Bay, which handed its opponent its first road defeat of the season.
The two teams meet again Tuesday night at HSBC Arena.
Unlike in each of the clubs’ respective outings two days before, Saturday’s contest was much more of a defensive battle than a high-scoring affair. Tampa Bay held a 17-16 shot advantage through the first two periods, while holding its opponent scoreless through the first 40 minutes for the second straight game.
“Defense first,” Lightning defense Matt Gilroy said. “That’s what coach [Guy] Boucher has been preaching and it seems that everyone has gotten the hang of it the past two games.”
One of the few chances allowed by either team finally came to start the second period, which the Lightning used the opportunity to their advantage.
Kubina managed to put Tampa Bay up 1-0 after a scoreless first period with the game-opening goal nearly five minutes into the second period.
After taking a nifty behind the back pass from Steven Stamkos, Kubina let one go from the right point that made its way through a maze of traffic before beating Ryan Miller at 4:51. The goal snapped Miller’s shutout streak at just over 98 minutes after he held Florida scoreless in a 3-0 shutout of the Panthers on Thursday night.
Victor Hedman added an empty-net tally with 1:27 left in regulation for Tampa Bay, which now has eight goals on the season from defensemen, the most of any team in the league.
“We always try to play defense first, but we also want to get shots on net and create chaos in front,” Hedman added. “Obviously it’s still early on in the season, but to get eight goals from the back end is a good start.”
Buffalo had a couple of outstanding chances to tie the game in the final minute of the middle period, but Garon was equal to two attempts by Sabres forward Drew Stafford.
From the start, the Lightning net minder appeared to still be riding high from Thursday night’s 4-1 victory over the Islanders when he stopped 16 of 17 shots to earn his first win as a member of his new club.
Clinging to a 1-0 lead, Garon made a number of key saves midway through the contest amidst a flurry of Sabres scoring chances in front, despite the fact that Tampa Bay, at times, had trouble clearing the puck out of its own defensive zone.
“It’s a tremendous feeling for us to know we’re secure in the back,” Hedman said of Garon. “We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for him to see the puck and we’re trying to get in front of him to block shots.”
Tampa Bay, which entered Saturday ranked second in the league with 114 blocked shots, added another 22 to that total through 60 minutes.
The Lightning went up 2-0 thanks to a heads-up play by its captain and some fancy stick work by St. Louis at 8:30 of the final period.
After Vincent Lecavalier caused a turnover in Buffalo’s offensive zone, he collected the puck and sent a perfect feed to St. Louis, who was parked near the top of the crease. St. Louis first deked Miller to the backhand before working the puck back across and elevating a wrist shot above the Buffalo net minder for a two-goal lead.
“I thought I let him go far enough so that he couldn’t come back,” Miller said.“I kind of knew he was going to do that actually. He made a nice move.”
Hedman’s uncontested tally into an empty net at 18:33 of the third finished things off.
“People might say we just played two good games,” Boucher said. “What’s important is that we didn’t panic. We talked about the process and about being very specific on what we needed to improve. We’re going to stay humble. We’re playing them again next and they’re a hockey machine, so we’re going to have to make sure we’re well prepared.”