Martin St. Louis, in his 15th NHL season, one-timed a cross-ice pass from Steven Stamkos to tie the score 2-2 with 5:51 remaining in regulation. Rookie forward Ondrej Palat, appearing in his 24th NHL game, scored the game-winner off a scramble 1:46 later as the Lightning overcame a 2-1 deficit.
"Again, it was big-time players making big-time plays when we needed them," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "That pass Stamkos makes to Marty, and then the kids went to work. That was 100 percent a blue-collar, work-ethic goal and they deserved every ounce of that. It was great to see."
Palat's goal was the third of his career and his first game-winner.
"The rebound on Tyler Johnson's shot hit my skates, so I put it into the net," Palat said. "It's a great feeling to have a game-winning goal. It's perfect."
Cooper, who coached Palat for three seasons in the American Hockey League, has been pleased with his progress.
"I think these last few games it would be hard to argue me out of saying he was the best player on the ice," Cooper said." He plays defense, he can set guys up, he controls the puck, he's got patience and poise. He's extremely dependable. It's one of those things that when he makes a mistake you're shocked that it happens -- and it doesn't happen very often."
Buffalo grabbed the lead at 12:46 of the third period when Thomas Vanek finished off a 2-on-1 with Marcus Foligno. Zemgus Girgensons had the other assist as the Sabres caught Lightning defenseman Radko Gudas pinching in deep in their zone.
Brian Flynn scored his second goal of the season into a wide-open net to tie the game at 1-1 at 12:58 of the second period. An errant clearing pass by Tampa Bay ended up on the stick of Ville Leino alone in the slot. Lightning goalie Ben Bishop (20 saves) stopped Leino's shot, but the rebound bounced to Cody McCormick at the left of the crease. As Bishop dove to try to snag the puck, McCormick sent a cross-crease pass to Flynn at the right side of the net for an easy goal.
Tampa Bay had three of its six power plays in the second period but couldn't beat Ryan Miller, who finished with 39 saves.
"It was a frustrating game," St. Louis said. "It wears on you when a goalie steps up like that, but we stuck to it."
While it might have been frustrating for St. Louis, that was nothing compared to what Vanek was feeling.
"I think we took too many penalties," Vanek said. "Miller kept us in the game, We got the lead but they kept coming. Then we lost St. Louis on the tying goal and then the second one no one gets the rebound. It's disappointing. We battled hard and walked away with nothing."
Buffalo coach Ron Rolston also was frustrated, but he directed his comments to two of his players who sat for most of the third period.
"Cody Hodgson. He didn't play. He just didn't play," Rolston said. "[Drew] Stafford too. Your best players have to be your best players. At the end of the day, that's what is going to happen."
Hodgson was on the ice for 2:26 of the third period while Stafford skated for 1:47.
The Sabres have been notoriously slow starters this season, and they allowed the first goal for the 12th time in 13 games. Miller stopped Valtteri Filppula's power-play shot, but Johnson put home the rebound at 12:48 for his third goal of the season.
Buffalo (2-10-1) did not get its first shot on Bishop until more than six minutes into the game. The Sabres best scoring chance came midway through the period when Steve Ott had a breakaway but couldn't beat Bishop.
Tampa Bay (7-3-0) wrapped up a seven-game homestand, its longest of their season, with a 5-2-0 record. Still, Cooper was cautious in assessing his team's play this early in the season.
"Are we a good team? I don't know," he said. "I'd say we're a resilient team. We work hard. We stay in almost every game and they are finding ways to win the close ones. "
St. Louis, named captain just before the season, feels finding ways to win is the key.
"That is what makes you in this League," he said. "The good teams always find a way to win. It's not always going to be perfect; we're not looking for perfection, we're looking for results."