Lightning cannot afford to overlook Sabres

The Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday begin a four-game trip that ends against the Western Conference leaders, the Nashville Predators.

There is no suggestion, however, that the Eastern Conference leaders are looking past the opener against the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night, or the two games that follow against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers.

The Lightning talked respectfully Monday about the skill the Sabres have.

“You’ve got (Nashville) ahead of us, you’ve got Pittsburgh, which has a couple Cups, you have an upstart Buffalo team that’s playing outstanding, so there is a lot of different type teams we are playing,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Monday.

The Lightning (12-4-1) lost 6-4 to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday at Amalie Arena to end a four-game winning streak that followed a loss to Nashville.

The Sabres (9-6-2) have win two in a row, 6-5 in overtime over the Canadiens in Montreal on Thursday and 4-3 in a shootout over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday at home.

“Anytime you’re on road trips like this, you try to get wins early, especially that Buffalo game,” Lightning right winger Ryan Callahan said. “Try to get points. Stack them up. As the road trip goes on, it definitely gets harder and harder to win some of those games.”

After their game Tuesday, the Sabres will play their next three contests on the road against the Winnipeg Jets, Minnesota Wild and the Penguins.

The Sabres said they are eager to test themselves against the Lightning.

“Every team’s really good in this league,” Sabres goaltender Carter Hutton said. “I think any team on any given night can play really well and can test you. These are teams with winning records. We’re at home here then we’ve got to go out to a few tough buildings and play.

“It’ll be a good experience for guys and I think for us, we can’t really get too overwhelmed with the bulk of the games. We’ve just got to keep what’s in front of us. We’ve got a challenge tomorrow against Tampa and we get our rest tonight and we focus for that, then we move forward from there.”

During the third period Saturday, Sabres coach Phil Housley moved Sam Reinhart to the line with Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner with Jason Pominville being switched to a line with Vladimir Sobotka and Evan Rodrigues. Based on practice Monday, those lines should stay intact Tuesday.

“I thought Reino was going well,” Housley said. “Reino’s played with Jack before, obviously. We’re just trying to find balance throughout our lineup.”

The way the Sabres won their past two games only adds to their building confidence. They have trailed after the second period each time and came back to win.

The win Saturday was particularly dramatic. Skinner scored with 2:27 left in the third period to cut Vancouver’s lead to 3-2 and Reinhart tied the game with 1:47 remaining.

“It’s a good feeling to have that belief,” Reinhart said. “You’re going to run through adversity throughout the year and you sort of need to keep that belief. Things aren’t going to go your way, you’re going to have bad nights. (Saturday) I think wasn’t our best night, but we found a way to get the job done and get two points.”

Lightning left winger Adam Erne, who missed the game Saturday with an upper-body injury, practiced Monday. Defenseman Anton Stralman, who also was out Saturday with an upper-body injury, did not skate Monday, however. Cooper said that he hopes Stralman, who is listed as day-to-day, will return during the trip.

The Lightning got defenseman Victor Hedman back from an upper-body injury Saturday and he scored a goal.

“He’s a huge part of our team,” Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn told the Tampa Times on Monday. “He’s a huge part of our identity. He is a guy that just does so many things so well. He is the fastest guy out there. He is in every play. He is defending every puck. He is kind of an omnipresent person out there. And he’s a leader in our dressing room, so to have him back is really good.”