SABRES (13-15-4) at LIGHTNING (17-10-4)
TV: MSG-B (HD), CW44
Last 10: Buffalo 5-4-1; Tampa Bay 5-3-2
Season series: Second of four meetings this season. Tampa Bay won 2-1 in Buffalo on Nov. 20 behind goals from Teddy Purcell and Adam Hall, plus a 29-save effort from Mike Smith.
Big story: A three-way fight for supremacy in the Southeast Division is shaping up between the Lightning, Thrashers and Capitals -- Washington currently resides in first, its customary place over the past several seasons, but thanks to a seven-game losing streak is just one point ahead of Atlanta and two up on Tampa Bay beginning play Saturday.
Sabres: By the time the alarm clock went off for Buffalo on Friday it was already way too late. The Sabres didn't show much in the first period against the Panthers and dug themselves a 4-0 hole after 20 minutes en route to a 6-2 defeat. By the time Derek Roy and Tim Connolly scored their goals, Ryan Miller was long gone -- pulled in favor of Patrick Lalime after giving up those four early Florida goals on just 10 shots.
"They did their thing and embarrassed us," defenseman Steve Montador told the Buffalo News. "We just came up an inch short in almost every play."
Lightning: Among the encouraging things to come out of Wednesday's 2-1 shootout win over Atlanta were the effort of Smith in net and the return of captain Vincent Lecavalier following a 15-game injury absence. Smith made 27 saves and stopped all four attempts by the Thrashers in the penalty-shot tiebreaker, while Lecavalier had four shots and a plus-1 rating in nearly 17 minutes of ice time. Victor Hedman netted the shootout winner for the Lightning in his first career opportunity.
"The last game we had a shootout, and he was just looking at me with those eyes," coach Guy Boucher said. "I always choose those guys because they have a tendency to be scared. Whoever they are, and when guys look at you like that, they want it."
Who's hot: Roy has 1 goal and 6 assists during a four-game points streak for the Sabres. … Randy Jones has 1 goal and 3 assists during a four-game points streak for the Lightning.
Injury report: Buffalo defenseman Shaone Morrisonn is out indefinitely with concussion-like symptoms. … Tampa Bay forward Steve Downie (ankle) is on injured reserve, while forwards Mattias Ritola (illness) and Nate Thompson (knee) are day-to-day.
Stat pack: The four goals the Sabres allowed in the first Friday was a season high for a period. The team has allowed three goals or fewer in 20 of 32 games. … Thirty-one games represents the fastest in Lightning franchise history that they've reached 38 points.
Puck drop: Smith could be in line for another start after he turned in the best performance by a Tampa Bay goaltender in recent memory against Atlanta. Dan Ellis has started 17 games this season, compared to 14 by Smith, but neither has particularly inspiring numbers -- Ellis has a 3.23 goals-against average and .876 save percentage, while Smith has a 3.36 GAA and .879 save percentage.
"He was great," Lecavalier said of Smith on Wednesday. "He made some big saves tonight. It was a really tight game, but he really kept us in there. It was a good win for his confidence, and I believe things like that carry over."