Mathieu Garon and The Tampa Bay Lightning cooled off the Eastern Conference’s hottest team on Saturday night.
Garon made 26 saves as the Lightning defeated the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 at the First Niagara Center, snapping the Sabres’ three-game win streak and handing Buffalo just its second loss in its past seven games.
“I thought we played solid defensively and didn’t give them much,” Garon said. “We came out hard and responded really well.” Steve Downie and Steven Stamkos each scored goals for Tampa Bay, which has now earned points in nine of its past 10 games. Garon improved to 6-0-2 in his past eight starts in net.
Buffalo played in the second half of a back-to-back set after earning a 3-2 shootout win at Dallas just the night before, which helped the Sabres leapfrog both Tampa Bay and Montreal for 11th place in the Eastern Conference heading into Saturday’s contest.
The victory, which was the Lightning’s third in as many tries on the season versus the Sabres, allowed Tampa Bay to gain the two points right back though, and create a three-way tie for 11th place in the East with 54 points.
Jason Pomniville had the lone goal for the Sabres, playing for the third time in four nights. Buffalo managed 13 shots through two periods and 27 overall.
Pominville cut a two-goal deficit in half with Buffalo’s first tally of the game at 7:07 of the final period, with the better part of the final period still to play.
With the Lightning clinging to a one-goal lead late in the third, both sides had chances to put an additional goal on the board but couldn’t convert.
First, a blast from Bolts defenseman Brendan Mikkelson at the top of the point sailed high and ricocheted off the crossbar before Garon made a spectacular save by sliding across the crease to deny a solid Buffalo scoring chance.
Christian Ehrhoff then clanged one off the crossbar himself with under a minute to play, allowing Tampa Bay to narrowly escape by a slim margin.
Buffalo failed to earn a point for the first time in seven games (5-1-1), and lost in regulation at home for the first time in 11 outings, dating back to a 4-1 loss to the Rangers on Dec. 10.
Downie opened the scoring and gave Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead after taking a pass from Victor Hedman in front of the net and wrapping a shot around Miller’s pad at 7:31 of the second.
Stamkos then doubled the lead to make it 2-0 just over five minutes later after taking a pass from Teddy Purcell and one-timing it past Miller for his league-leading 37th of the year.
Miller finished the night by stopping 26 shots on 28 attempts.
Prior to Saturday, the Sabres net minder had gone 5-0-1 in his past six games.
“We were able to catch these guys on a back to back [set], so that maybe helped a little bit,” Stamkos said. “But we utilized our speed and got a lot of zone time which was kind of our Achilles’ heel at the beginning of the year, so we generated a lot of chances.”