Game Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning @ Buffalo Sabres

Everything was there for Buffalo on Friday: pressure against their opponents, plenty of shots and some extra grit. The one thing that was missing was the victory and the Ottawa Senators won for the ninth consecutive time with the Sabres to inch within five points of them albeit having played two more games. Certain stories just aren't meant to be and this is one of them.

But alas, it's a new day and a new match-up on the schedule. The Tampa Bay Lightning are in a must-win situation for their remaining eight contests and this is an ideal moment for them to pick up a rare win over Buffalo. Although the Sabres have owned the season series 3-0, they are playing for the second time in as many nights and the Lightning are desperate for points.

Buffalo will clinch a playoff berth with a win but nothing comes free in this world. If they stick to the same game-plan they used against the Senators, then the celebrations shall begin tonight.

Ten additional thoughts on the game:

  • First off, I'd like to give the Sabres squad a round of applause because if there was any justice in this world, they would have beaten their Division rivals yesterday. Goaltender Brian Elliott was the main spoiler with 41 saves and too many loose pucks seemed to bounce over sticks during Buffalo's offensive zone play.
  • Patrick Kaleta fought Zack Smith and lured Mike Fisher into a dumb penalty which resulted in a five-minute boarding plus a game misconduct. All in a day's period's work for the agitator. The powerplay couldn't create anything though and demerits to Tim Connolly for receiving a slashing call during the five-minute man-advantage.
  • Steven Stamkos' one-timer would certainly alleviate our powerplay troubles. The sophomore center has fearful power and accuracy on his shot as he fires most of his goals from the left side. Tied with Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby for the most goals (45), a Rocket Richard Trophy for Stamkos would be a great story especially after so many folks had written him off in his rookie campaign. For the record, I wasn't one of those people.
  • Antero Niittymaki stopped 47 shots in Boston on Thursday as the Lightning were outshot 50-18. I believe that's what we call a steal. The Finn was victimized for five tallies in the previous meeting with Buffalo just over a week ago and will seek some vengeance. Patrick Lalime could start here but with a clinched postseason spot on the line, Ryan Miller will likely step in for peace of mind.
  • Tampa Bay is undermanned with Kurtis Foster, David Hale, Ryan Malone and Mattias Ohlund all on the shelf; some more seriously hurt than others. Raffi Torres has missed for games but no complaints, since we've won three of those.
  • Another encouraging saga out of Tampa Bay is the progress of Steve Downie. Once known as nothing but a goon (probably still is by a lot of viewers but not nearly as much), the former Philadelphia Flyer has tossed aside his unnecessary antics and played great hockey. He's up to 20 goals and 44 points in a crease-crashing role. You have to give credit where credit is due. 
  • Drew Stafford has one goal in 20 games. What are we going to do with him? He's back on the first line with Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek however, that now places Tim Kennedy on the second line which in turn puts Jochen Hecht on the third unit. I don't like the idea of splitting up the second line at all as they've been terrific throughout the campaign.
  • Rock solid in his last six games, Steve Montador is resembling the defenseman we first saw at the start of the season. He's earned a plus-six rating during that span and chipped in with two points while maintaining a safe distance from the penalty box.
  • Are Vincent Lecavalier's best days behind him? Shoulder problems prevented him from playing the final game of the 2008 season and the consensus is that it has had an effect on Lecavalier's performances in the ensuing two years. Three years removed from his Rocket Richard triumph, let's hope that isn't the case.
  • The heart and soul of the club, Martin St. Louis has been a huge reason for Stamkos' emergence with his inch-perfect passing and knowledge of the game. The two are ranked fifth and sixth respectively in league scoring with St. Louis holding a one-point advantage.

While the defeat to Ottawa did hurt as usual, the best medicine to heal those wounds is a Northeast Division title. It's still theirs for the taking. First thing's first though: securing a playoff berth.

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