NHL Preview from The Sports Network
Thursday, March 18th (All times eastern)
Buffalo Sabres (36-22-10) at Tampa Bay Lightning (28-29-12), 7:30 p.m.
(Sports Network) - An inability to win on the road has plagued the Buffalo Sabres as of late. The Northeast Division leaders will attempt to reverse that negative trend when the team visits a venue it's had great success in during recent years for tonight's clash with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Buffalo enters the St. Pete Times Forum having lost 10 of its last 11 road tilts (1-7-3) and has dropped the first two tests of a current five-game trek. The Sabres had a string of eight consecutive defeats away from home -- a skid which matched the longest in franchise history -- snapped with a 2-1 overtime win over the New York Rangers on March 7.
After starting this road trip with an overtime setback to Detroit on Saturday, Buffalo came out on the short end of a 4-3 decision Tuesday in Atlanta. The loss was the third straight overall for the Sabres, who are just 6-11-4 since January 19.
The Sabres fell behind by a 3-1 score after one period against the Thrashers, but drew even on goals from Matt Ellis and Tim Kennedy before Atlanta's Jim Slater netted the game-winner with 6:44 left to play. Kennedy was credited with an assist on Ellis' tally.
Buffalo did receive a subpar performance from goaltender Ryan Miller, with the U.S. Olympian stopping just 2-of-5 shots before being removed just 5:20 into the contest. Patrick Lalime saved 20-of-21 chances in relief.
"I worried about him a little bit, three goals in five opportunities is not what you want to see," Sabres head coach Lundy Ruff said about Miller. "It's never an easy decision, you just take the emotion out of it and do it and hope it works out."
Despite its tailspin over the past two months, Buffalo still resides atop the Northeast standings and owns a three-point edge on second-place Ottawa. The Senators have struggled down the stretch as well, going 1-5-1 since returning from the Olympic break.
A trip to Tampa may help the Sabres get back on track. Buffalo has prevailed in eight of its last nine visits to the St. Pete Times Forum and is 15-3-0 over its last 18 overall matchups with the Lightning.
Buffalo has won both 2009-10 meetings between the teams, including a 3-2 shootout verdict in Tampa back on October 24.
The Lightning find themselves in a rut at the moment as well, having lost nine of their past 11 outings. Tampa Bay began an important four-game homestand with a tough 2-1 defeat to defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh on Sunday, then fell to red-hot Phoenix by the same score two nights later.
The Coyotes scored a pair of first-period goals and received another stellar performance out of Ilya Bryzgalov in Tuesday's triumph, with the Russian netminder turning aside 27 of the 28 shots he faced.
"I don't think we got enough traffic in front of (Bryzgalov)," said the Lightning's Brandon Bochenski. "You can see we weren't getting second chances. We weren't getting pucks through to the net, and we weren't getting enough second chances."
Tampa Bay played its fourth straight game without one of its top scorers in Ryan Malone, and the physical forward is expected to miss up to an additional two weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Tuesday. The 30-year-old ranks third among Lightning players with 21 goals this season.
The Lightning enter tonight's play in 11th place in the East and six points back of Boston for the conference's eighth and final playoff seed.
03/18 16:46:12 ET