Buffalo Sabres bounce back in Florida to defeat Tampa Bay Lightning 4-1
After having their road winning streak ended at nine games by the Florida Panthers last night, the Buffalo Sabres put together a solid team effort to defeat the Lightning tonight in Tampa Bay by the score of 4-1. Tampa Bay got an early goal just 2:17 into the first period when the Sabres suffered a defensive breakdown. Jay McKee could not stop a pass by Ruslan Fedotenko to Vaclav Prospal who was rushing across the Sabres’ blue line. Rory Fitzpatrick failed to slow him down and Prospal fired a shot over Miller’s right shoulder. Buffalo tied the game at 1-1 just four minutes later on the power play. Henrik Tallinder took a shot from the point into traffic in front of the net. Tampa goalie, John Grahame, stopped the initial shot but left the rebound in the crease. Thomas Vanek pounced on the puck and slid it between Grahame’s legs. One knock that has been on the Sabres for the past month is that they tend to start slow and sluggish in the first period. Tonight they came out skating hard early on and took the attack to the Lightning. Both Buffalo and Tampa took ten shots on net in the first period in a back and forth game. Buffalo took control of the game in the second period and scored 2 goals on 13 shots. Ryan Miller was strong in net for Buffalo, stopping all 13 of the shots that Tampa fired on him in the second. Chris Drury put the Sabres up 2-1 at the 6:41 mark of the second period. Jochen Hecht broke down the right wing and passed a backhand pass to Drury along the goal line and through the crease. Grahame was unable to get over in time to make the save and Drury took the pass on his backhand and flipped it into the open net. Henrik Tallinder increased the Sabres’ lead to 3-1 less than four minutes later. Daniel Paille made an excellent move in front of the Tampa net by using his body to block out the Lightning defender from getting the puck and then he passed it to Tallinder who was crashing down from the point. Tallinder fired the puck over a sprawling John Grahame for the goal. This was a huge goal for Buffalo who had just had a scoring opportunity by Max Afinogenov denied. Max was in front of the net and rang a shot off of both goal posts that then came out and ended up under Grahame. It could have been a momentum turner for Tampa but Tallinder’s goal put that momentum back on Buffalo’s side. Buffalo continued to press the attack in the second period, especially the final five minutes of the period. Paille and Afinogenov both had back-to-back opportunities on Grahame but missed. Grahame was down and out in front of the net but neither Sabre could get the puck in the net. The Sabres started to play back on their heels in the third period as Tampa got desperate and started pinching their defense and taking chances. With just under three minutes left in the third period and down by two goals, Tampa pulled Grahame in favor of the extra attacker. Buffalo won the ensuing face off in the Buffalo zone and broke out into the neutral zone. Paul Gaustad found Ales Kotalik streaking through center ice and fed him the pass. Kotalik skated in and shot the puck in the empty net to put the Sabres up 4-1. That would be the final score of the game. In addition to getting an important win to avoid going 0 for 2 in Florida, Buffalo got a great game from Ryan Miller. Miller has won both of his starts this week after being out with an injury. Miller played strong tonight and made many difficult saves off of deflections in front of the net. Miller stopped 30 of 31 shots and held off Tampa on all seven of their power plays which totaled 11 minutes and 28 seconds. As long as both Miller and Marty Biron are on the team head coach Lindy Ruff is going to have a difficult time dividing up their playing time. It was nice to note that Biron was one of the first players off the bench to congratulate Miller after the game. The two appear to get along well but both need playing time in order to stay sharp and that could eventually lead to friction – something the Sabres are hoping to avoid. Both Buffalo and Ottawa won their games tonight so they remain numbers 1 and 2 in points in the Eastern Conference. Ottawa now has 51 points and Buffalo has 49. The Flyers and Hurricanes also kept pace by winning their games tonight and moving to 47 and 48 points respectively. The Sabres have the weekend off and will skate again on Monday night in Buffalo against the New York Islanders at 7:00 PM.