Tampa Bay's forte for years has been its scoring ability. Boasting all-world players such as Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier, the Lightning hoped they could outscore everyone. The Buffalo Sabres learned Saturday night that since bringing in coach Guy Boucher last year, Tampa can play defense, too.
The Lightning clogged the ice all night to shut down the surging Sabres and earn a 3-0 victory in St. Pete Times Forum. Tampa snapped the Sabres' three-game winning streak and sent them back to Buffalo with a 3-1 record on their four-game road trip.
"It's one of those nights where we didn't deserve the points," Sabres captain Jason Pominville said. "We didn't get them because we didn't create enough."
The Sabres finished with a season-low 21 shots. Only a handful of them were legitimate scoring opportunities.
"The first period was a pretty sound period," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "After that they started winning more battles, a little bit better job of getting pucks on net, little bit better job of getting pucks out.
"We've got to be harder on pucks. I thought our power play if we were harder on some situations we could have generated some more opportunities. There was a lot of little plays that could have amounted to more but just weren't good enough."
The Sabres' offense also was hindered because the team skated a man down for all but the opening 2:15. Tyler Ennis was lost with an ankle injury.
Ennis, who was trying to break out of the slump that had seen him fail to record a point so far, was driving the net when Tampa's Ryan Malone gave him a tap from behind. The winger hit the ice and slid hard into the net, his left foot landing flush on the post before he got buried in the cage.
Ennis headed to the dressing room and did not return. He will be evaluated in Buffalo today.
Having just 11 forwards sent Ruff scrambling to find players to double-shift. Ville Leino got the chore for much of the first period, moving to left wing for center Derek Roy and right wing Drew Stafford while maintaining his spot in the middle of left wing Cody McCormick and right wing Brad Boyes.
Thomas Vanek got more ice time in the second period, sticking with center Luke Adam and right wing Jason Pominville while also taking turns with the Roy line.
"Enner is a huge part of our team, and the lines got a little messed up," Adam said. "That's no excuse. A game like that where it's 1-0 going into the third period is a great test for us, and it's a game that we've got to find a way to win."
The Lightning struck early in the second to get their 1-0 lead. Pavel Kubina shot high through traffic, the puck soaring through the screen and past Miller with 4:51 gone. As Miller shrugged in his patented move to show he never saw the shot, Kubina let loose with a huge windmill fist pump to celebrate with the sellout crowd of 19,204.
"They got a puck through traffic and got a goal, then it just becomes where they can try and make you make mistakes all night," said Miller, who stopped 23 of 25 shots. "They're frustrating to play against."
With scoring chances at a premium, the Sabres' best chances to find the net came during two third-period power plays. Goalie Mathieu Garon and the Bolts' penalty killers kept Buffalo off the board as the netminder claimed his 20th career shutout.
Tampa's St. Louis finished off the Sabres soon after the first power play. A Buffalo clearing pass near its own blue line clipped the skate of Tampa's Brett Connolly. Captain Lecavalier recovered and quickly found St. Louis all alone in front. The sniper had plenty of time to deke and feint Miller to the ice, and he put the puck home to make it 2-0 with 11:30 to play.
Victor Hedman sealed the proceedings with 1:27 left, scoring into an empty net on a breakaway.
The Sabres were set to return home following the game, and they'll actually be staying for a while. After playing six of the first seven games away from Buffalo, the Sabres will begin a five-game homestand Tuesday when they host the Lightning in First Niagara Center.
"That's the way they have success is to frustrate their opponent, and they did a good job of it," Adam said. "The beauty of it is we get them again on Tuesday."