TAMPA, FLA. – Ondrej Palat’s shot through a goalmouth scramble late in the game was the winner, as the Tampa Bay Lightning scored twice in 1:46 to rally from behind in a 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Just like they did on October 9 in Buffalo, the Sabres had a 2-1 lead on the Lightning in the third period. And just like that early October night at First Niagara Center, the Sabres would fritter away a golden opportunity to take home two points.
Thomas Vanek put Buffalo ahead at 12:46 when he one-timed a perfectly-placed slapshot under the arm of Tampa goaltender Ben Bishop, finishing off a power rush and backhand pass from Marcus Foligno. The goal continued a career trend for Vanek, who now has 24 goals and 39 assists in 33 games against the Lightning
But as quickly as Buffalo grabbed the lead, the Lightning’s big guns took it away. Tampa played keepaway with the puck, as the Sabres got caught running around the defensive zone. Martin St Louis ducked in behind rookie Nikita Zadorov at the bottom of the left faceoff circle, and buried a pass through the slot from Steven Stamkos at 14:09 to bring the game back even.
Palat capped the comeback 106 seconds later on a play that should’ve been called a penalty. Rasmus Ristolainen went into the right corner to play the puck, only to have his feet taken out from under him by Palat, who then cycled the loose puck to Tyler Johnson. His initial attempt was stopped by Ryan Miller before Palat found the back of the net with a spinning wrist shot through a crowd at 15:55.
The loss was a tough pill to swallow for Miller, who had kept Stamkos and St. Louis off the scoresheet for most of the night with several key saves. Miller repeatedly denied the prolific pair their one-time attempts from the off-wing faceoff dot, anticipating their shots with numerous cross-crease sliding saves. Stamkos and St. Louis each recorded four shots on goal to pace Tampa’s 39-shot attack.
As has been the case so far this season, goaltending held Buffalo in the game. Tonight it was Miller’s turn with 36 stops, following up Jhonas Enroth’s 44-save performance on Friday. Miller’s record drops to 1-8-0 with the loss, numbers clearly not indicative of his strong play.
There was no carryover from Friday’s win in Florida, as the Sabres inexplicably stumbled out of the gate for yet another game. With Johan Larsson in the box for hooking, Johnson swept home a bouncing Valtteri Filppula rebound to give the Bolts a 1-0 lead at 12:48. Buffalo has now been outscored 16-1 in the first period this season, and outshot by a combined total of 178-93 in the opening 20 minutes of their first 13 games.
The Sabres finished the night with just 22 shots on goal, and were outshot 21-9 through the first 30 minutes of play. They didn’t record their first shot of the night until six minutes had passed, and took just three in the third period. Most of Buffalo’s shots were of the one-chance variety, with the 6-foot-7 Bishop continually swallowing up the puck to prevent any secondary opportunities.
The Sabres evened the score midway through the second, the result of some good old fashioned hard work down low. After Ville Leino was able to keep the puck in the Lightning zone, Cody McCormick stripped Eric Brewer along the goalline and fired the puck through the crease. With Bishop caught out of position, Brian Flynn snuck in for the easy tap in to convert his second of the year at 12:58. Leino, playing in just his second game of the season after injuring his ribs in Detroit on October 2, picked up the secondary assist for his first point of the season.
The man games lost to injury continue to pile up for the Sabres, and defenseman Mike Weber will be the newest contributor to that dubious team category after being placed on Injured Reserve. Weber took a Mike Weaver slapshot off his right hand at 9:35 of the second period on Friday in Florida, and arrived at today’s morning skate with his thumb heavily wrapped. Weber actually absorbed two consecutive Weaver shots just one second apart, and was credited with shot blocks on both. The Sabres iced the puck nine seconds after the second block, but Weber was able to get permission from the linesman to leave the ice because of the injury. Rolston said Weber will be out “long term,” but couldn’t specify a time range.