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Lightning (17-10-4, 38 Points) vs. Sabres (13-15-4, 30 Points)
Last 10: Tampa Bay (5-3-2); Buffalo (5-4-1)
Season Series: Tonight’s matchup at the St. Pete Times Forum is the second of four meetings this season. Tampa Bay took the first game between the two clubs on Nov. 20 in Buffalo behind a stellar 29-save performance from Mike Smith in a 2-1 win.
The Big Story: Tampa Bay set a franchise record with a win in its last game, giving them 38 points through the first 31 games to open a season, which marks the fastest span to earn that many points in any campaign throughout team history. The victory also made for an interesting race in the Southeast Division standings, as the Lightning’s win combined with Washington’s seven-game losing streak separates three teams, including Atlanta, by just two points for the division lead.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay hosts Buffalo tonight for the second game of a three-game home stand. The Lightning have points in five straight in their home arena and have won two in a row, as well as nine of the last 14 games. Much of the praise stemming from the team’s last outing, a 2-1 shootout victory against Atlanta on Wednesday night, fell upon goaltender Mike Smith who was spectacular in net for the Bolts. Smith made 27 saves and stopped all four shooters in the tiebreaker in just his first start since Dec. 2. Smith is expected to make another start in net tonight for the Lightning against Buffalo as a reward for his strong outing Wednesday. Vincent Lecavalier also returned to the lineup for the first time after missing 15 games due to a hand injury and played well, logging nearly 17 minutes of ice time, firing four shots on goal and registering a plus-one rating. The efforts of both Smith and Lecavalier rendered the win a big boost of confidence for both players and the entire team.
SABRES – Buffalo comes to the St. Pete Times Forum for the second and final contest of a two-game road trip, as well as to conclude the latter half of a back-to-back set. Buffalo’s swing away from home got off to a rocky start following an ugly 6-2 loss at Florida last night. The Panthers scored four times in the first period and had even strength goals, a power-play goal and one shorthanded tally throughout the night. Derek Roy and Tim Connolly had the lone goals for Buffalo, who has alternated wins and losses in each of its last six games. Ryan Miller was pulled in favor of Patrick Lalime after giving up four early goals on just 10 shots.
Who’s Hot: Ryan Malone’s season-high team-tying seven-game point streak came to an end in his last game, but nonetheless the Lightning forward still has four goals and 10 points in his last eight games. Steven Stamkos also comes in with three goals and four points in his last three games, while defenseman Randy Jones is riding a career-high-tying four-game point streak with as many points in that span. Buffalo’s Derek Roy has one goal and six assists in the midst of a four-game streak as well.
Injury Report: LIGHTNING – Steve Downie (ankle sprain, out indefinitely). SABRES – Shaone Morrisson (concussion, out indefinitely).
Notable Quotable: “The one thing with our goaltenders that we've talked about is consistency. Obviously, you can't have consistency if you never make it through that first step. So that was a good first step.” – Head Coach Guy Boucher, on how the team’s last win should improve the confidence of goaltender Mike Smith, who will start again in net tonight for the Lightning
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