Friday, March 07, 2014
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Lightning foiled by Sabres in Stamkos' return game

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[March 07, 2014]  TAMPA, Fla.  The Tampa Bay Lightning got its best player  center Steven Stamkos  back from an extended injury absence, but could not get a win against one of the worst teams in the NHL.

Defenseman Tyler Myers and left winger Marcus Foligno scored goals and goaltender Jhonas Enroth made 43 saves as the Buffalo Sabres dealt the Lightning a costly 3-1 loss on Thursday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

"We've hit a rut," said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. "At some point, most teams go through these."

Tampa Bay's is coming at an inopportune time, with 19 games remaining. The Lightning (34-24-5) still hold one of two wild cards in the Eastern Conference but lost eight of their last 11 games. Buffalo (19-35-8) has the fewest points in the league with 46.

"You've got a team coming in here that's not necessarily going to be in the playoff and they play hard and play well and they get a great game from their goaltender," said Stamkos, who was announced as the new Lightning captain before the game. "We can't afford to let teams come in here and let them beat us down the stretch."

The game was an odd confluence of emotions and storylines for the Lightning. Stamkos returned after a 45-game injury absence, but Tampa Bay was slipshod and ineffective in its first game without former captain Martin St. Louis, its emotional leader and spark, who asked to be dealt to the New York Rangers at the deadline.

Right winger Ryan Callahan, who came to Tampa Bay in the St. Louis trade, was anonymous in his Lightning debut.

Not so for Enroth, who became the starter with the trade of longtime Sabres goaltender and Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller. He was spotless until center Tyler Johnson scored short-handed for his 19th goal of the season on a defensive lapse with 2:29 left. The Sabres, outshot 44-21, blocked 21 attempts in front of Enroth.

Stamkos showed no lingering effects from his broken right tibia, but was not his predatory self. He missed the net wide on a rush in the first period and was alone with the puck in front of Neuvirth with 18 seconds left in the second, only to miss everything. Earlier, he had indulged in a brief three-punch fight with defenseman Mike Weber.

"Thank God he was a little bit rusty in his first game back," said Sabres coach Ted Nolan.

Cooper, however, said Stamkos was "outstanding" on Thursday.

"If that's the worst game he plays for us, things will look really good," he said. "I thought he was the most dangerous man on the ice."

Tampa Bay went 0-for-3 on the power play and struggled throughout the game to establish or maintain possession in the offensive zone. Defenseman Mark Barbeiro missed wide of the net late in the game on a power play set up previously drawn for St. Louis.

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"It's definitely a different team without (St. Louis) over there," said Sabres center Cody Hodgson, who had a goal and assist. "On the power play there is a different dynamic on that side. They're still dangerous and they still have chemistry over there, but it's definitely different."

In a period the Lightning dominated, Buffalo took a 1-0 lead 4:04 left in the first when Myers skated onto a blueline giveaway, eluded defenseman Sami Salo and snapped his ninth goal of the season past goalie Anders Lindback, who made18 saves in the loss.

Buffalo controlled play through the first half of the second period, producing several odd-man rushes, but doubled its lead with a grinder goal with 10:35 left. After Hodgson dug the puck from a scrum behind the net and threw a shot off Lindback, Foligno swooped in from the far side of the goal to stuff in his seventh of the season. Hodgson (18) and Myers (13) assisted.

Hodgson scored his 16th of the season on a breakaway to seal the win with less than four minutes left. Foligno added his ninth assist.

NOTES: RW Martin St. Louis, the former Lightning captain, scoring champion, Hart Trophy winner and the last link to the team's 2003-04 Stanley Cup roster, was granted a trade to the New York Rangers on Wednesday. St. Louis led Tampa Bay with 29 goals and 61 points this season and in career points (973) and assists (604). ... Lightning C Steven Stamkos returned after missing 45 games with a broken right tibia. Stamkos was hurt crashing into a goal at Boston on Nov. 11. The two-time goal-scoring champion, whose leg was stabilized with a titanium rod, had 14 goals in 17 games and was tied for the league lead when he was injured. The Lightning averaged 3.1 goals in the 17 games that Stamkos played before Thursday and 2.6 in the remainder. ... The Sabres entered with the fewest points in the NHL (44). ... Buffalo claimed former Lightning LW Cory Conacher off waivers from the Ottawa Senators. ... RW Teddy Purcell replaced St. Louis on the top line with Stamkos and LW Alex Killorn. ... Stamkos was announced before the game as the new Lightning captain and the 10th in franchise history. ... RW Ryan Callahan was a minus-1 in 16:33 in his Lightning debut, with four hits.

[ 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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