SABRES (24-22-5) at LIGHTNING (33-16-5)
TV: RDS (HD), VERSUS (HD), TSN2 (HD)
Last 10: Buffalo 6-4-0; Tampa Bay 7-3-0
Season Series: This is the third of four meetings between these teams. The Lightning have won the previous two, including a 3-1 win on Dec. 18 in which Martin St. Louis registered 2 assists before sealing the victory with an empty-net goal.
Big Story: Both teams can cite the midseason arrival of their respective starting goaltenders as part of the reason for their strong play of late. Since acquiring Dwayne Roloson from the Islanders on New Year’s Day, the Lightning have gone 10-5-0 and stayed atop the Southeast Division.
Meanwhile in Buffalo, franchise goaltender Ryan Miller hasn't looked back since missing a number of games in November with various ailments. Since returning from a groin injury on Nov. 26, Miller has posted back-to-back shutouts and led the Sabres to a 16-10-2 record. That streak has allowed Buffalo to overcome a dreadful 3-9-2 start and re-enter the playoff discussion.
Sabres: After closing a three-game road swing with a 3-2 loss in Pittsburgh, Buffalo cruised to a comfortable 6-2 home win against Toronto on Saturday. Against the Leafs, Buffalo raced out to a 4-0 lead as Drew Stafford led the charge with 2 goals and an assist while Thomas Vanek contributed a goal and 2 assists.
"If we want to get into the playoffs we have to make sure that we do the right things to get the wins," Vanek said. "I think in Pittsburgh we kind of just sat back and let them take the game to us."
Lightning: In the midst of a record-tying 12-game homestand, the Lightning can potentially pull away in the Southeast Division. They currently boast an Eastern Conference-best 18-5-2 home record and have gone 4-1-0 so far during their long stay at St. Pete Times Forum.
Hosting St. Louis on Sunday, Tampa Bay captain Vincent Lecavalier scored with seven seconds remaining in overtime to give the Lightning a 4-3 win. The game was the first this season for veteran defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron, who registered two assists including a helper on Lecavalier's winner.
"He was flying," coach Guy Boucher said of Lecavalier. "To me, by far, this was his best game of the year."
Who's Hot: Vanek now has 5 points in his last three games and 19 points in his last 14 games while Sabres teammate Jason Pominville has 9 points in his last eight games. … For the Lightning, Steven Stamkos had a four-point night against St. Louis and has 15 points in his last 10 games.
Injury Report: For the Sabres, Derek Roy (quad) is on IR while Patrick Kaleta remains out with a hand injury. … For the Lightning, winger Ryan Malone and defenseman Mike Lundin are both questionable with mid-body injuries, as is center Mattias Ritola, who is battling an inner-ear disorder.
Stat Pack: Despite sporting a roster full of offensive stars, the Lightning have been sparked lately by unheralded winger Teddy Purcell. After spending much of his career in the minors and registering just 1 point in a 14-game span this season, Purcell has exploded for 4 goals and 9 points in his last five games. His 34 points in 53 games this season equal his career total prior to the 2010-11 campaign, a total that Purcell needed 110 games to achieve.
Puck Drop: Despite losing their first two meetings this season against Tampa Bay, the Sabres have fared well against the Lightning. Entering the 2010-11 campaign, Buffalo had gone 17-3-0 against the Lightning since the work stoppage, sweeping the season series three times in that span.