Bolts pushing to keep playoff hopes alive

Both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Buffalo Sabres are trying to make a push into playoff contention.

Both teams, though, still have a lot of work remaining.

The surging squads meet Saturday in Buffalo, where the Sabres will try to extend a pair of point streaks at the expense of the Lightning.

Buffalo (24-24-6) is currently in 11th place in the East, eight points behind Toronto for the eighth and final playoff spot with two teams to leapfrog. The Sabres picked up two vital points Friday night, rallying from a two-goal, third-period deficit to post a 3-2 shootout victory over the Dallas Stars.

Nathan Gerbe netted the winning shootout tally for the Sabres, who have a 10-game point streak at home (6-0-4) as well as points in six straight games (5-0-1) overall. Thomas Vanek ended a 10-game goalless drought with his team-high 20th tally, and Derek Roy forced overtime by scoring with 39 seconds to play.

“We need character wins like that, and it’s a big two points for us,” Roy said. We’ve just got to keep this thing going. Everybody’s on the same page and we’ve got to keep the momentum going.”

Vanek’s goal was also Buffalo’s first power-play marker since Jan. 21, ending a five-game drought in which the Sabres failed to convert 12 opportunities.

Tampa Bay picked up a point for the eighth time in nine games (6-1-2) with a 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday and enters this game in 13th place – 10 points back of the Maple Leafs. The Lightning rallied from a goal down to take a 3-2 lead in the second period, only to allow a tying goal with 9:47 left in regulation and the winning tally by ex-Lightning forward Brad Richards 2:37 into the extra session.

“We came in against the No. 1 team in the conference and we made it hard for them again,” Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher said. “We’ve only lost one regulation game in nine games, so we are playing well. We’re making it hard. We’re fighting.”

Steven Stamkos, who notched his NHL-leading 36th goal in the loss, has scored in three consecutive games and has four goals and four assists during a five-game point streak. He has a goal and an assist in Tampa Bay’s two wins versus Buffalo this season, and five goals and eight assists in 13 lifetime games against the Sabres.

The Lightning’s Mathieu Garon, who has gone 5-0-2 in his last seven starts, likely will get his third crack at the Sabres this season after turning aside 60 of 63 shots while winning the previous two – including a 21-save shutout Oct. 22. Prior to this season, however, Garon had gone 1-7-0 with a 3.61 ERA in six starts and eight lifetime games versus Buffalo.

The Lightning have not defeated the Sabres three straight times since March 14-Dec. 6, 2003.