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The Buffalo Sabres still are atop the Eastern Conference despite recently enduring their longest losing streak of the season. They may not be there much longer, however, if they don't improve on defense.
Buffalo looks to extend its slim conference lead Friday night as it continues a four-game road trip against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Backup goaltender Ty Conklin made his first start for the Sabres an excellent one, stopping 42 shots Thursday in a 5-3 victory at Florida.
"My mind-set going into it was that I want to make a good impression, you want the guys to feel confident with you in the net," Conklin said. "While it's only one game, it's a bit of a start."
The win ended a season-high, four-game losing streak for Buffalo (45-19-6), which remained two points ahead of New Jersey in the East and seven in front of Ottawa in the Northeast Division.
Conklin, acquired from Columbus on Feb. 27, had made one appearance with his new team, stopping eight of nine shots in relief of Ryan Miller against Minnesota on March 9.
Conklin needed to be sharp Thursday as Buffalo was outshot 45-20, including 17-7 in the third period.
"I think it gives everybody a lot of confidence," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "He hasn't played a lot. For him to get in and see the action he did, we're happy with the win and happy with the way he played."
Chris Drury snapped a third-period tie and rookie Drew Stafford scored twice for the Sabres, who allowed at least 40 shots for the fourth time this season.
Drury has goals in back-to-back games after going three games without one. They were his first three games after missing two weeks with a concussion. Drury also has scored two of his team-high 35 goals this season against Tampa Bay.
Despite Conklin's strong performance, Miller is expected to be back in net for this game. He'll return to action trying to snap a personal four-game losing streak during which he's allowed 14 goals.
Miller, though, is 6-1-0 with a 2.26 goals-against average in his career against Tampa Bay (39-28-4).
This will be the first home game in more than two weeks for the Lightning, who went 3-3-0 on a season-high six-game road trip.
Marc Denis was outstanding Tuesday in a 3-2 loss to Toronto, finishing with 22 saves. He kept the Lightning close as the Maple Leafs held a 24-8 advantage in shots through two periods.
"They certainly won more battles than we did," Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella said. "Obviously, they spent too much time in our zone and we didn't spend enough in theirs."
Although they are two points behind Southeast Division-leading Atlanta, the Lightning have a game in hand and will play eight of their final 12 contests at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Vincent Lecavalier had an assist Tuesday, giving him five goals and five assists during a six-game point streak. He has a league-leading 46 goals and is second with 94 points.
Martin St. Louis - third in the NHL with 92 points - has gone five straight games without a goal, matching his longest drought of the season.
The Sabres took the first two meetings this season, but Tampa Bay ended a six-game losing streak to Buffalo with a 3-2 road victory on Jan. 13.
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