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Burns: 3 Things from a third straight road win

Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns recaps the Bolts 4-1 win over the Sabres

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

Tampa Bay discovered Thursday it would be without its captain Steven Stamkos for approximately four months after the centerman had surgery in Vail, Colo., to repair a tear in the lateral meniscus of his right knee.

The demoralizing news didn't affect the Lightning's play on the ice, however, as the Bolts beat Buffalo 4-1 to win their third-straight game and fourth in their last five games.

Tampa Bay improves to 6-0-1 since the start of the 2013-14 season against Buffalo.

Ben Bishop has yet to lose in his career to the Sabres, moving to 9-0-1 after making 32 saves.

The Lightning have grabbed all six possible points from the current road trip and have two more games before returning to AMALIE Arena: Philadelphia on Saturday and Monday in Nashville to finish the trip.

So how did the Lightning recover after learning they'd lost their captain?

Ahead, 3 Things from Buffalo that led to a win.

Video: TBL@BUF: Nesterov puts home one-timer from Filppula1. HOW YOU DROUIN?
The Lightning lost Stamkos for an extended time Thursday.

But they also got Jonathan Drouin back after the 21 year old missed seven games when he sustained an upper-body injury November 1 in Brooklyn.

Drouin certainly can't replace Stamkos.

No one can.

But his return does help soften the blow.

And he showed what he can provide in Stamkos' absence in his first game back against the Sabres.

On the Lightning's first goal, Drouin sped into the Sabres' zone, splitting a pair of defensemen to get the puck deep into corner. After regrouping, Drouin slipped the puck back along the wall for Valtteri Filppula, who had room to skate toward goal and find Nikita Nesterov across the ice for an open one-timer.

"I thought on the first goal, he was the one that made the play," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said of Drouin. "He made the first play, (Filppula) made the second and Nesterov finished it."

Drouin's assist was his first point since scoring a goal October 25 at Toronto. The Lightning will need many more from him to help offset the loss of Stamkos.

Drouin's solid play in his first game back was certainly encouraging. There was some concern it might take a few games for Drouin to get back into rhythm.

Instead, it took him just a couple shifts.

"He was skating," Cooper said. "He had a couple good shifts. He was in on the forecheck. He commanded the puck on his stick, and I thought that line was very good tonight."

Video: TBL@BUF: Bishop dives back to net to rob Okposo

2. TWO-HEADED MONSTER
Backup Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy has started the 2016-17 season right where he left off in the 2016 Eastern Conference Final, when he led the Bolts within a game of the Stanley Cup Final in relief of the injured Ben Bishop.

Vasilevskiy hasn't allowed more than three goals in any start and has given up two or less in four of his six starts. The Russian ranks tied for fourth in the NHL for save percentage (.945) and fifth for goals-against average (1.66).

Starter Ben Bishop wasn't as sharp when the season started, however, giving up four goals in two of his first three starts, the struggles coming to a head in a 6-1 loss at the New York Rangers October 30 when he was in the net for all six.

Bishop certainly wasn't at fault for those six goals, and, in fact, his play kept the game from being a bigger blowout. But the loss was embarrassing for Bishop and the rest of the Bolts. Since that humiliation, Bishop has quickly rounded into form, resembling the goalie that was arguably the Bolts' most valuable player last season.

Bishop is 4-2-0 following the debacle at Madison Square Garden and, in the six starts since, has given up: one goal (Nov. 1 at NYI), one goal (Nov. 5 vs. NJD), two goals (Nov. 7 at FLA), three goals (Nov. 12 vs. SJS), three goals (Nov. 15 at DET) and one goal again on Thursday night. 

Against Buffalo, Bishop was dialed in from the opening puck drop. The Sabres outshot the Bolts 10-2 at the first television timeout. The Lightning, though, had the lead after 20 minutes, largely in part to Bishop's stellar play in net.

He continued to confound the Sabres throughout the game.

"It was the Ben Bishop show all the way," Cooper said. "He must have made six, 10 bell saves in the first few minutes of the game. I looked up at the shot clock, and they had 14 shots in the first 10 minutes of the game. I don't know what that does, but that's on pace for like 75 shots on goal. That's unacceptable. But the boys have played, this is three games in four nights, four in six, so they've kind of regrouped a little bit, and as that game went on, we got a little bit stronger. But you've got to thank Bish for keeping us in it early."

The Lightning enjoy one of the best one-two punches in net in Bishop and Vasilevskiy.

And with both Bishop and Vasilevskiy now playing at a high level, the Bolts just got that much more difficult to defeat.

 Video: TBL@BUF: Killorn buries Filppula's great feed for PPG

3. FIL-ING THE NET
At 32 years old, Valtteri Filppula continues to produce at a high level for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

On Thursday, the veteran center reached a couple milestones to add to his lengthy resume.

Filppula provided the primary assist on the Bolts' opening goal, setting up Nikita Nesterov for a wide-open one-timer in the left circle. The assist was Filppula's 250th of his NHL career.

Nearly a full period later with the Lightning on a power play and still leading 1-0, Filppula engineered a 4-on-2 rush into the Sabres' zone, taking a pass in the middle of the ice from Brayden Point and feeding Alex Killorn to his left for Killorn's seventh goal of the season and first since October 27.

That assist was Filppula's 400th point of his career (149 of them coming with the Lightning) and 100th assist with Tampa Bay.

In the absence of Steven Stamkos, the Lightning will rely on a number of players up and down their lineup to provide balanced scoring.

Filppula is one of those players expected to step up, and he responded Thursday with a two-point game, his first multi-point game since November 1.

"He's a pro," Cooper said. "There's some guys on the team, you're working with here, doing this, whatever, and with (Filppula), he's just a pro. You don't really have to worry about him. He's always going to give you an honest effort. More often than not, he's always making the right play. It's nice to see him getting rewarded with points because ultimately guys want to hit the score sheet. But that was good to hear hit 400 (career points). I didn't know that. That's quite an accomplishment."

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