After coming back to tie the score on three separate occasions, the fourth was more than the Lightning could manage as they fell to the Buffalo Sabres, 4-3.
The door to the penalty box was swinging open frequently at the start of the first period.
Buffalo winger Jason Pominville led the parade when he was sent off for interference at 3:35. The Lightning got their first three shots on net while skating with the extra attacker, but Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller handled each of them, and the one that he missed, a slapshot by Vincent Lecavalier, was stopped by the right post.
Play turned the other way quickly after the Buffalo penalty when it was Tampa Bay’s turn in the penalty box. Lukas Krajicek went off for tripping at 6:09. Before he was freed Buffalo was on the way back into the box when Nathan Gerbe sent off for hooking at 7:42.
Neither team converted their extra man chances, but seconds after the penalty box emptied Buffalo opened the scoring when Lightning netminder Mike Smith’s left pad save on a shot by Paul Gaustad rebounded onto the stick of Sabre forward Drew Stafford who scored at 10:02.
Tampa Bay came right back just three minutes later as Krajicek sent a pass from the blueline to Lecavalier in the right faceoff circle. Martin St. Louis was camped out in front of the Sabre net and Lecavalier’s pass was right on his blade, but it didn’t remain there for long as St. Louis backhanded the puck past Miller for his seventh goal of the season.
For the remainder of the first period, the battling newcomers, Radek Smolenak and Steve Downie took over. Smolenak tangled with Gaustad and 67 seconds later Downie took on Sabre center Adam Mair. All four received five minute major penalties for fighting.
Radim Vrbata had a great scoring chance with only 17 seconds remaining in the period, but Miller stopped his backhand shot.
When the buzzer sounded to end a first period which was basically a stand-off, each team had produced nine shots on net and the hits were also close, 9-7, advantage Tampa Bay.
The penalty parade continued as the second period got underway. Sabre center Jochen Hecht was called for hooking 50 seconds into the stanza and Lightning defenseman Matt Smaby was sent off for tripping at 4:08.
Again, the penalty kill units for both teams handled the extra man advantage with ease.
With a respite from the penalty calls, the goals started coming in rapid order.
Buffalo grabbed the lead at 9:46, when forward Derek Roy spun around to find open ice at the top of the faceoff circle to Smith’s right and shot the puck through a maze of sticks, one of which belonged to Thomas Vanek and his deflection found its way past Smith.
Tampa Bay stormed back to tie the game 35 seconds later when defenseman Paul Ranger’s shot from the left point deflected off two Buffalo players on the way to the net and slipped under Miller’s glove. For Ranger, it was goal number two on the season. Lecavalier got his second assist on the night on the goal, and Vaclav Prospal was credited with an assist also.
Buffalo was next when they took a 3-2 lead at 14:51 as Jochen Hecht deflected a shot from Adam Mair as he skated in front of the net and the resulting change in direction was enough for the puck to elude Smith.
The exchange of goals continued 39 seconds later as the Lightning fought back for the third time. Tampa Bay knotted the game at 3-3 when Vaclav Prospal picked up his sixth goal of the season when he banked the puck off Miller’s back from a severe angle along the goal line. Marek Malik and St. Louis were awarded the assists.
Once the scoring slacked off, the procession to the penalty box began anew, with Ranger sent off at 16:31 for hooking. 63 seconds later Tampa Bay defenseman Steve Eminger joined Ranger in the box for roughing, accompanied by Sabre forward Paul Gaustad, whistled simultaneously for boarding. Derek Roy joined the party 23 seconds later for delay of game when he fired the puck over the boards. Before the period came to an end, Hecht and Lecavalier fought to a draw at center ice at 19:22.
As the Lightning headed for the locker room after two periods, the score was tied 3-3 and Tampa Bay had killed off four Buffalo power plays while allowing only one shot while skating shorthanded.
Shortly after the final period got underway, Buffalo had another man advantage when Paul Szczechura was called for hooking at 1:36. Although the Lightning killed the penalty, the Sabres fired four shots on Smith, which set the pace for the first half of the period. Buffalo continued to keep the pressure in the Lightning zone and finally got the go-ahead goal when Derek Roy got his first score of the game, a shot from the high slot that made it through traffic and into the net.
The pattern seemed to be a familiar one to interim coach Rick Tocchet.
“We battle back and the other team gets the go-ahead goal in the middle of the third period,” Tocchet said. “It’s starting to feel like the movie Groundhog Day”
The Lightning had an opportunity to get the tying goal when Hecht was called for high sticking at 14:17, their sixth power play of the night. Tampa Bay unloaded six shots with the man advantage but couldn’t get the equalizer past Miller.
Mike Smith turned in another strong effort in net, stopping 23 of 27 shots while at the other end Ryan Miller saved 20 of 23 Lightning attempts. The Lightning out hit the Sabres, 25-12, led by Steve Downie and Paul Ranger with four each.
After tonight, Tampa Bay takes to the road again for four games, including a rematch in Buffalo December 10th with Buffalo.
1 - 0 BUF
Martin St. Louis
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 BUF
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 BUF
Martin St. Louis
3 - 3 Tie