TAMPA – With numerous Sabres auditioning to the Buffalo staff in the upcoming weeks, none shined more Thursday than netminder Jhonas Enroth in a near shutout of the Tampa Bay Lightning and 3-1 win at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Tampa Bay attempted 85 shots (44 shots on goal, 21 attempts blocked, 20 missed shots) in the loss. Enroth stopped all but one from the Lightning, including a handful of point blank shots from Steven Stamkos, who did not take long to loosen up, in his return to the lineup after missing 45 games with a broken leg.
"On the first shift with Teddy [Purcell] we had a good scoring chance," Stamkos said. "It was nice to get the confidence up. Obviously, we would have loved to generate some production, but we had a lot of chances, so not the start we wanted as a team, but a lot to build on."
"I thought he played outstanding," head coach Jon Cooper said. "If that's the worst game he plays for us, things are going to look really good because I thought he was the most dangerous player on the ice."
Stamkos said he experienced a little cramping and was out of breath by the end of the game, but overall felt good in his first contest since mid-November. He ended the game with 21:03 total time on the ice with five shots, two hits and 17 wins out of 24 attempts in the face-off circle.
Despite creating some early chaos in front of Enroth's net, Buffalo was first to score with 4:04 remaining in the first period. Tyler Myers stole an errant puck and scored an unassisted tally top shelf on Anders Lindback for a 1-0 lead at the end of the opening frame.
The Sabres doubled their score midway through the game after Myers took the puck from behind the net and shot it into Lindback's left leg pad. The puck then was swatted across the crease, as Marcus Foligno came up from behind the net and batted in the loose puck for a 2-0 game at 9:25 of the second.
Late in the middle period Sami Salo stopped a puck from going out of the Lightning zone by blocking it with his body. The puck then made its way to Stamkos' stick, though not expecting it, the Bolts center attempted to take a point blank shot right in front of Enroth's crease, but it flew wide right.
Cody Hodgson gave the Sabres a 3-0 lead with less than seven minutes remaining in the contest when his initial breakaway shot bounced off Lindback's chest and through his legs at 13:44 of the third. Foligno picked up a helper on the tally and put him, as well as Myers, at one goal and one assist on the evening.
With two and a half minutes remaining in regulation Tyler Johnson broke Enroth's shutout bid with a shorthanded tally at 17:31 of the third for a 3-1 game. Though the score did create some momentum for the Lightning it was too little too late in its first loss of the season series to Buffalo.
UP NEXT – Tampa Bay will face the Boston Bruins for the fourth and final time this season Saturday night at the Times Forum. It is also the second of a six-game homestand, which also features the Phoenix Coyotes, Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils and Vancouver Canucks.
OTHER NOTES FROM THURSDAY'S GAME
Steven Stamkos was named the 10th captain in franchise history just minutes before Thursday's puck drop in what Cooper called a "no brainer" decision.
Cooper was pleased with Callahan in his debut as a Bolt, saying he did everything expected of him. Callahan logged 16:33 of ice time with four shots, four hits and time on both the power play and penalty kill. Callahan also felt more comfortable with his linemates (Valtteri Filppula, Alex Killorn) as the game went on.