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First-period blitz zaps Lightning
Pominville records at trick in win

TAMPA, Fla. -- For the Buffalo Sabres' sake, hopefully video cameras followed their every move prior to Thursday's game. That way they can review the tape, retrace their steps and do exactly the same thing every game day -- because whatever they did, it worked.

The Sabres busted out of their slow-starting mode in a big way against Tampa Bay, scoring three times in the first period of a 6-2 rout. The vocal Blue and Gold backers in St. Pete Times Forum repeatedly celebrated as the Sabres lit up the Lightning early.

The fast start was sought and needed. Buffalo's three-game winless streak featured sluggish openings, and the Sabres came out intent on stopping both those skids. They collectively have been at a loss to explain why they don't always come out swinging, so maybe a playback of Thursday's actions will give them some explanation.

The changes started early. The Sabres skipped the morning skate and had a meeting instead. Then, when the pregame warm-ups started, the Lightning had the ice to itself as coach Lindy Ruff told his team to wait three minutes.

"It's the first time we tried it and it worked, so I think the odds are pretty good that we're going to do it again," said right wing Jason Pominville, who scored three times. "I don't know if that's why we came out better, but it definitely has been our focus. Our starts haven't been good enough."

The Sabres owned the opening period with the trio of goals and a 14-4 shot edge. They improved to 27-4-4 when scoring first. They finished with their best goal output since a 7-2 win in Phoenix on Jan. 18.

"It was a good steppingstone for us," Ruff said. "Our desperation, our attention to positioning, our puck possession was real good. The first 30 minutes, we had the majority of puck possession, and it made it tough on them."

Pominville opened the attack with 5:19 gone. The Sabres' power play, which has scored in three of the past four games after a five-week skid, did the honors. After Tyler Myers gave Buffalo a 2-0 lead with 6:04 remaining, Pominville sent the Buffalo fans in the crowd of 16,868 out of their seats again.

Pominville completed the scoring for his second career hat trick with 34 seconds to go in the game. Hats poured to the ice to honor the visiting player, and the Sabres' Three Stars -- Pominville, Derek Roy (one goal, two assists) and Ryan Miller (23 saves) -- responded by skating out to wave to the cheering masses.

"There were a lot of fans here, so we decided to stay out," said Pominville, who has 21 goals. "On the road you don't normally do it, but all three were on our team so we just decided to give them a salute."

The Lightning, in a 4-0 hole, finally beat Miller in the third period. Steve Downie scored with 11:54 left, and a power-play goal by Vincent Lecavalier cut the margin to 4-2 with 2:38 to go.

Thomas Vanek's empty-netter with 1:46 to go ended the Lightning's slim hopes and set the stage for Pominville's hat trick.

Miller was at his dominating, read-the-play best before the goals. He correctly read several cross-ice plays to make saves look easy. He got a big ovation prior to the game, as has been the custom since his Olympic performance, and got a larger one midway through the second with two saves on a Lecavalier breakaway.

Miller's performance came one game after allowing three goals on five shots and getting pulled in Atlanta.

"I was happy to have it tonight," he said. "I obviously didn't have it in Atlanta and wanted to bounce back."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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