BUFFALO, N.Y. – Playing the first night of back-to-back games, the Tampa Bay Lightning traveled to face the Buffalo Sabres for the first time this season. In the third of four meetings between the clubs, the Lightning carried a one-goal lead into the final period but dropped the decision in overtime, 4-3.
Chris Gratton scored the opening goal in the contest before Brad Richards and Vaclav Prospal added third-period markers for Tampa Bay. Netminder Johan Holmqvist made a season-high 42 saves, but a three-goal effort by Tomas Vanek lifted the Sabres to the victory.
As Buffalo skated with an early power play opportunity, Holmqvist made one of his first saves of the night. Making a glove save through traffic, the Lightning goalie denied a Jochen Hecht slapshot from the right point.
Minutes later, Gratton connected for his 10th goal of the season to give Tampa Bay the early lead. After a Craig MacDonald shot from the point deflected down to Filip Kuba at the right side boards, Kuba backhanded a pass to the front of the net. As Gratton crashed to the side of the crease, he redirected the puck behind goaltender Ryan Miller at 4:02 of the period.
Picking up a helper on the play, Kuba recorded an assist for the third consecutive game.
Midway through the period the Sabres played with the man-advantage, but Holmqvist held the club off the scoreboard as the power play wound down. After Hecht put a shot behind the net, Jason Pominville gained control of the puck at the goal line to the right of Holmqvist. Pominville fired a shot on goal that deflected off a Lightning defender, allowing Hecht to fire off a backhanded attempt in the goalmouth.
Richards later turned over the puck in the Sabres zone, dumping it into the left corner behind Miller. Coming in from behind, Mathieu Darche fired a shot off the deflection but Miller blocked the attempt.
As the play turned back to the opposite end of the ice, Holmqvist made a sequence of quick saves. Holmqvist started with a pad save on Derek Roy after Tim Connolly dropped a pass to the bottom of the left faceoff circle. Within seconds Holmqvist denied Vanek as he tried to bang in a deflection from a Brian Campbell slap shot, then made another pad save on a second attempt by Roy.
Although the Lightning opened the frame on the power play the teams went on to skate through a scoreless second period. As a shot by Kuba bounced off a Sabres stick in the slot, Jan Hlavac gained control of the puck at the left hash marks. Hlavac fired a quick shot on goal but Miller smothered the puck.
Miller later made a pad save on Martin St. Louis after Vincent Lecavalier picked off a pass in the Sabres’ zone. Lecavalier fed a pass to St. Louis who skated across the blue line to fire a wrist shot from the top of the right faceoff circle.
Holmqvist responded with a handful of saves for Tampa Bay, getting some help from his post when Pominville fed Clark MacArthur for a shot at the left side of the net. On a power play late in the period Pominville snapped a one-timed attempt from the bottom of the left faceoff circle. Holmqvist blocked the attempt, allowing Dan Boyle to clear puck.
Connolly followed up the play by sliding a pass down to Vanek at the left side of the net. Holmqvist blocked Vanek’s pass through the crease before holding on to the puck when Connolly skated to the front of the net for a wrist shot.
At the end of the penalty kill Lecavalier broke up a pass in the neutral zone before skating across the blue line for a shot. Lecavalier wristed the puck on goal, but Miller made a shoulder save on the play.
A little more than one minute into the third period Richards scored his 18th goal of the season to give the Lightning a 2-0 lead. Hlavac gained control of the puck at the left side boards, passing across to Richards at the top of the near faceoff circle. Pulling the puck from between his legs, Richards snapped a shot to Miller’s glove side for his 150th career goal.
Although Derek Roy scored two minutes later, bringing the Sabres within one, the Lightning continued to pressure Buffalo through the period. Roy posted his 22nd goal of the season, connecting on a wrist shot that beat Holmqvist to the stick side and banged into the net off the post.
The Tampa Bay goaltender followed up the goal with one of best saves of the night, dropping into a split to deny Paul Gaustad at the side of the net. Following up a feed to the goalmouth by Pominville, Gaustand put the shot on Holmqvist who got his stick down to cover the five-hole.
Lightning goalie Johan Holmqvist, right, makes a glove save as Buffalo Sabres center Paul Gaustad screened the shot during the first period in Buffalo, NY, on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2008. (AP Photo/Don Heupel)
Looking to build the Lightning lead, MacDonald broke up a pass by Nolan Pratt before skating on a breakaway against Miller. With Pratt trailing the play, MacDonald switched to the backhand but the shot hit the side of the net and deflected out.
At 13:12 of the period Prospal connected to extend the Tampa Bay lead. After Lecavalier sent a pass to Boyle at the right point, the Lightning blue-liner fired a shot on goal. Prospal gained control of the rebound at the top of the crease before sending a back-handed shot over the sprawled Buffalo netminder.
With the goal, Prospal extended his scoring streak to a season-high four games. The Lightning winger has recorded nine goals in his previous 10 games, including five goals during his streak. Prospal also tied his career-best of four consecutive games with a goal, a mark previously set during the 2005-06 season.
Recording an assist, Lecavalier extended his current point streak to seven games. During the streak Lecavalier has posted nine points, including eight assists. Lecavalier also extended his point streak against the Sabres to 10 games, notching 12 points (seven goals, five assists) during the stretch.
Despite the goals, Vanek tied the game at three when he added a pair of third-period markers. After tipping a shot by Toni Lydman at the front of the net, Vanek scored his second goal by redirected a pass by Connolly behind Holmqvist on an odd-man rush. Vanek added his third and final goal of the night at 2:25 of overtime, scoring his 25th goal of the season as the Sabres skated with the man-advantage.
Holmqvist made a season-high 42 saves in the contest as the Sabres out-shot the Lightning, 46-25. The Tampa Bay goalkeeper has posted a 6-0-3 records through his previous nine road games.
Despite the decision, the Lightning remain unbeaten in regulation since January 2. Tampa Bay has skated to a 7-0-3 record through their previous 10 road games.
The Lightning continue their two-game road trip on Thursday, February 21 (7:00p.m., Sun Sports, 620 WDAE) with a match-up against the New York Islanders. The game marks the second and final meeting between the clubs at New York this season.
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