Stamkos nets late winner to keep Lightning red hot
TAMPA, Fla. — Buffalo goalie Michal Neuvirth was so impressive, he earned the game’s No. 1 star in defeat.
Steven Stamkos scored his 22nd goal to break a third-period tie and the Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning beat the stumbling Sabres 2-1 on Friday night.
Stamkos took a pass from Jonathan Drouin during a 2-on-1 and lifted a shot with 5:18 to play over Neuvirth, who was under siege the final two periods and finished with 45 saves.
"No doubt he was the best player on the ice," Stamkos said. "Regardless, we still found a way to get a couple past him. That’s all we needed tonight."
Tampa Bay has outscored opponents 51-36 in the third period this season.
"It’s really disappointing, the result," Neuvirth said. "We were so close to get at least a point here. We were working hard. It’s tough to swallow right now, but I thought we did our best."
Valtteri Filppula also scored for the Lightning, who have won seven of eight.
The Sabres, losers of seven in a row, got a goal from Cody McCormick. Buffalo has scored eight goals during the skid.
Neuvirth stopped all 26 shots he faced during the second period, including a lunging in-close save on Ryan Callahan less than a minute after McCormick tied it at 1. Later in the period, the goalie stopped Nikita Kucherov’s breakaway backhander and had a terrific diving glove save on Brett Connolly, a play that appeared to be so certain a goal that the red light was turned on and the celebration horn went off.
"I thought he was sensational," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. "A couple of big saves that he made, and that one that the whole building thought it was in the net when he made that glove save on it. It was a good sign to see him play the way he did."
The 26 shots set a Tampa Bay record for most in a period.
"It is frustrating, for sure," Stamkos said. "We just have this calming influence in the (locker) room heading into third periods that we’re going to stick with our structure and it’s going to work."
Buffalo’s penalty killing unit, which entered last in the NHL in road success, got its fifth short-handed goal this season when McCormick skated down the slot alone and put a shot past Ben Bishop 50 seconds into the second. McCormick stopped a 36-game goal drought dating to April 5 against Pittsburgh.
Bishop stopped 20 shots.
"We had our chances, but we’re not going to kid ourselves," Nolan said. "We had our chances, but their skill set and their skill level really took it to us."
The Sabres’ NHL-worst power play gave up a short-handed breakaway to Cedric Paquette with 7 minutes left in the third, but Neuvirth again came up big, turning aside the scoring chance.
Filppula opened the scoring at 3:51 of the first with a rebound goal.
"I thought the guys played well," Bishop said. "A full 60 minutes. Found a way to win."
NOTES: Callahan has one goal in his last 19 games. He did assist on Filppula’s goal. … Buffalo RW Drew Stafford rejoined the team following the birth of his child. … The Sabres have been outscored 37-15 in the first period, and 57-30 during the third this season. … Buffalo D Tyler Myers was minus-2 and had two of the Sabres four penalties. … Tampa Bay C Tyler Johnson (four goals, eight points) and LW Ondrej Palat (eight assists and nine points) both had their four-game point streak end.