At the start, Tampa Bay immediately pressed the attack. With less than two minutes gone in the opening period, Lightning center Ryan Craig carried the puck behind the Sabre net and fed the pass to Martin St. Louis in front. St. Louis rang a shot off the right goal post and the puck fell directly onto the goal line and remained there until Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller could cover it.
The Lightning kept the play in the Sabre end of the ice for long stretches, holding Buffalo without a shot on Tampa Bay netminder Mike Smith, starting his fifth consecutive game in goal, for almost eight minutes.
The Bolts opened the scoring at 10:21 when Steven Stamkos intercepted a clearing pass in the Buffalo zone, slipped the puck to Martin St. Louis at the left faceoff circle, and St. Louis buried the shot past Miller for his eighth goal of the season. With the score, St. Louis extended his scoring streak to five games and has recorded 10 points in his last 10 games.
Lightning center Zenon Konopka, arriving mid-way through the period after a call-up from Norfolk in the AHL, was whistled for interference at 14:51. While he was in the penalty box, Buffalo was called for having too many men on the ice, and the bench minor equaled the skaters at four apiece.
Tampa Bay won the ensuing faceoff, set defenseman Paul Ranger for a shot from the point which Miller stopped, but Mark Recchi grabbed the rebound and deposited it into the Buffalo net at 16:18 to give the Lightning a 2-0 lead. Paul Szczechura also was credited with an assist. The goal was Recchi’s seventh of the season.
“I was fortunate to get the rebound,” Recchi said. “That’s what happens when you go to the net. We’ll take all the ugly goals we can get.”
Unfortunately for the Lightning, that would be their last goal, ugly or otherwise, for the night.
With less than two minutes remaining in the period, Craig and Buffalo center Paul Gaustad swung away, with both getting major penalties for fighting, but Craig had infractions tacked on for delay of the game and roughing, giving Buffalo a four-minute extra man advantage.
With 64 seconds gone in the penalty, and only 38 seconds remaining in the opening stanza, Buffalo forward Drew Stafford deflected a shot from the point past Smith to narrow the Lightning lead to 2-1.
The Lightning came out aggressively to start the second period. At 3:52 of the period, Konopka made his presence, and his right hand, felt as he pounded Buffalo centerman Adam Mair.
Mike Smith made a series of highlight-reel saves through the middle of the period, robbing Maxim Afinogenov at 15:21 with his right pad and moments later, Jason Pominville tested Smith with a shot from just outside the crease.
Buffalo tied the game at 2-2 when Sabre winger Ales Kotalik sent a long pass which sprung Thomas Vanek in on Smith on a breakaway. Vanek’s wrist shot beat Smith for his NHL leading 21st goal.
Tampa Bay was not without good scoring chances in the period, including an opportunity when Stamkos skated down the slot, picked up a pass from Vincent Lecavalier, but had the puck roll off his stick and with it a chance to regain the lead.
With less than two minutes remaining in the second, Evengy Artyukhin was sent off for roughing and for the second time in the game, Buffalo connected on a late period power play goal. Thomas Vanek got his second of the game and 22nd of the season, a backhander over Smith’s shoulder with 15 seconds left in the stanza.
That left the Lightning, trailing 3-2, with 20 minutes remaining to avoid going winless for the ninth game in a row.
Despite launching 11 shots on the Buffalo net in the third period, Tampa Bay was unable to get the goal that would even the contest.
With Smith off for an extra attacker and 13 seconds remaining, Jason Pominville backhanded the puck from the Buffalo zone into the vacant Lightning net to finish the scoring, 4-2.
Tampa Bay, facing the third best penalty kill in the NHL, was 0-4 on power play attempts while Buffalo connected twice in six opportunities.
The Lightning cross the border to face the Montreal Canadiens in the Bell Center Thursday night, followed by a Saturday night game in Ottawa before returning home to host the Colorado Avalanche on December 18th.
Martin St. Louis
1 - 0 TBL
2 - 0 TBL
2 - 1 TBL
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 BUF
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