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Sabres Notebook: Johnson, finally, gets a win at home

It's been nearly two years since Chad Johnson won in KeyBank Center and it was a puzzling fact for the Buffalo Sabres backup goalie.

On Tuesday night against the best team in the NHL, he changed all that.

Johnson made 26 saves as the Sabres upended the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, 5-3, in KeyBank Center. It was his first win at home since March 31, 2016.

"It's been hard to really get wins in the home building for me," Johnson said. "I've always had a lot of success at home no matter what year it's been, it's just this year has been a little different for me. It's nice to get the win for sure."

The win is the second straight for Johnson, who made 25 saves in the Sabres win over the Bruins in Boston on Saturday, giving the backup wins over two of the best teams in the league at the moment.

But for Johnson, there was no carry over. Each game is a single entity. And the stats aren't always indicative of the way he feels he's playing.  After all, he'd be judged differently for allowing three goals on Tuesday if the Sabres offense didn't counter with five.

"I've felt good about my game all season," Johnson said. "I know I haven't been getting the results and statistics don't really show for me my abilities and how I've played all season. I think just now everything's clicking and I'm getting results and I'm getting wins.

"It's one of those things where if you lose, 3-1, now people are talking about 'oh you don't have enough saves or this or that.' So when you win everything looks better. For me, I try to continue to do what I possibly can with the teams I'm playing and how we're playing and the last couple have just gone our way."

The last two have certainly gone Johnson's way as the 31-year-old works through a season with an unkind home-road split.

In nine appearances in KeyBank Center, Johnson is now 1-5-1 with a 4.50 goals against average and an .863 save percentage.

On the road, he has played in 12 games, going 3-4-2 with a 2.90 goals against average and .903 save percentage.

And while Tuesday's win didn't feature any game-stealing, Top 10, breathtaking saves, well, that's fine with Johnson. Because that's just not really his style.

Simplicity and consistency are the words he strives to play out on the ice.

"I'm not really a dive-all-over-the-place kind of guy so I don’t think I usually end up on the highlight reel," Johnson said. "Sometimes I do, but I try to make things look as simple as possible. ... It was a team effort. I think everyone was willing to pay the price to win. The challenge, like any team, is to keep that up, keep up the consistency."

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Former Canisius College standout Cory Conacher was back in Buffalo Tuesday. While a healthy scratch for the Tampa Bay Lightning, Conacher is finding his niche during his second NHL stint.

After bouncing around four NHL teams after a successful first pro season, winning the 2012 Calder Cup with the Norfolk Admirals and the AHL Rookie of the Year Award, Conacher decided to go to Europe and play for SC Bern in the top professional hockey league in Switzerland.

The move allowed him to resurrect his NHL career.

"The reason I went over was just to find a second wind," Conacher said Tuesday afternoon in KeyBank Center. "Going to Europe there's less contact, it's more offensive so you have more room to get your offensive skills back. There's a lot of power plays and the ice is bigger so there's a lot more room for guys like me to make plays and make offensive plays I think that definitely helped for sure."

 

After a successful season for SC Bern, where he scored 22 goals with 30 assists and helped the team win the post-season title, Conacher signed again with Tampa Bay. With his second NHL opportunity he has a different outlook on how he can contribute to a team.

"Obviously I'm a very competitive guy," Conacher said. "There's times when you get frustrated, you want to play a little more but that's not going to help the team win games necessarily. You've got to do what it takes to help this team and if it's playing 10 minutes you've got to make sure those 10 minutes are your best 10 minutes and that's what I've come to understand.

"As a young guy when I first started I'd be getting frustrated, I'd be negative on the bench, I'd show all those emotions and it would rub the wrong way for a lot of guys. You don't want that to happen here.  Whenever you get the call to get on the ice or into the game, then you've got to play however many minutes you've got to play to your best and that's what I'm trying to do."

Cory Conacher signs with Tampa Bay Lightning

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The Rochester Americans will be without their leading scorer for the next four to six weeks.

Left wing C.J. Smith has suffered a lower-body injury and will be out at least a month, the organization announced Tuesday. Smith has a team hat trick, leading the Amerks in goals (14), assists (25) and points (39).

The 23-year-old is an American Hockey League All-Star in his first pro season. The Sabres signed him out of UMass-Lowell at the end of last year, and Smith appeared in two games with Buffalo.

Rochester (25-13-12) is third in its division but is on a season-worst five-game winless skid.

Sabres Notebook: C.J. Smith stars for the Amerks in AHL All-Star Game

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Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper is pretty familiar with Sabres forward Jack Eichel, working with him at the World Cup of Hockey and at last month's All-Star Game in Tampa's Amalie Arena.

With that knowledge, he was pretty bummed that his Lightning team wouldn't be facing Eichel Tuesday in Buffalo or in the Feb. 28 game in Tampa as Eichel remains out with a high ankle sprain.

"Even as the opponent tonight, I wish everybody could be healthy," Cooper said in KeyBank Center. "Ultimately, it's a fan's game and fans want to see players of Eichel's stature.  ... I really enjoy watching him and being around him."

Cooper knows all about high ankle sprains, too. Tampa Bay forward Ondrej Palat missed his 10th straight game after suffering one Jan. 20 and backup goalie Peter Budaj will miss No. 20 with a sprain suffered Dec. 29.

"I hate to say this but you're almost wishing there was a break in there instead of a sprain," Cooper said. "It's amazing to say that but they're way worse. You just don't know how you are when you come back. Players who get them ... it's frustrating. Eventually he'll walk normally and feel right but when you're pushing off, it's way different. I feel for guys who get those."

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