The return of a few regulars also sparked a return to the consistent play we've come to expect from the Lightning the past two seasons but has been missing for much of 2016-17.
Tampa Bay surrendered the first goal of the game but responded with three straight of their own, Ondrej Palat netting two, in a 4-2 victory over Atlantic Division rival Buffalo. In the process, the Lightning picked up a much-needed two points after getting shutout through the first four games of 2017.
"Today was a step in the right direction," Victor Hedman said.
There were plenty of positives to draw from Thursday's victory. We'll highlight the main ones in 3 Things from beating Buffalo.
Video: BUF@TBL: Bishop goes post-to-post for blocker save
1. BIG BEN
Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop said before Thursday's game it might take him a period to shake off the rust after missing nine games with a lower-body injury.
Bishop hadn't played since December 20 when he crumpled in a heap in the first period against Detroit and headed back to the locker room, not to be seen on the ice for nearly a month.
Bishop's arrival on the AMALIE Arena ice was met with a huge roar from the crowd.
The first shot he saw produced a groan.
The Lightning dominated the opening minutes of the first period, keeping possession and cycling the puck deep in the Buffalo zone.
Buffalo's first counterattack, however, produced a two-on-one, which they converted when Matt Moulson shot over the blocker of Bishop.
First shot of the game
First goal of the game
The Lightning trailed 1-0 just 2:58 into the first period, the 27th time in 43 games this season they've given up the opening goal.
"It would've been nice to start with a little easier one," Bishop said, smiling. "Not much you can do, guy made a pretty good shot. It was kind of a fluky play, bounced a couple of times. I wasn't too worried about it. It was nice to get a couple saves after that, but yeah it would've been nice to start with maybe like a long one."
Fortunately, for the Bolts, that opening goal would be the low point of the night for Bishop, who settled down and dialed in for the next 57 minutes. Bishop made 24-of-26 saves and was a calming influence in the net all night for the Bolts.
"He was phenomenal," Hedman said. "He was calm with the puck and made some big saves for us. Obviously a tough start, a breakaway right away, but he grew into (the game), played the puck well, moved well and made some big saves for us. It was a lot of fun to see him play with that confidence."
For Lightning fans, it was fun just to see him on the ice again.
Video: BUF@TBL: Palat finishes smooth passing play for PPG
2. PUTTING UP PALAT OF POINTS
Ondrej Palat went on a scoring tear after returning to the lineup from an undisclosed injury on December 28, the Lightning forward recording points in four-straight games and netting three goals over that stretch.
But in the three games to follow, Palat was shut out.
On Thursday, the 25-year-old Czech winger broke out of his mini-slump in a big way.
Palat scored a pair of goals for the first time this season, giving the Lightning a 2-1 advantage after they fell behind 1-0 early. And he assisted on Nikita Kucherov's team-leading 17th goal of the season for a three-point night, his first of the season and first since March 25, 2016 against the New York Islanders (3 assists).
"Palat was a beast tonight," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "He was all over the ice. But you need linemates to help you become that way and I thought (Vladislav Namestnikov) and (Nikita Kucherov) were skating. That line was really, really effective tonight, and they played against some solid lines and some solid d-pairs. For them to do what they did, it was big for us."
Palat was a beast on the defensive end for the Lightning too. After Buffalo scored midway through the third period to cut the Bolts' lead to 3-2, the Sabres were given a power play less than three minutes later with a chance to tie the game. The Sabres' Jack Eichel had a wide-open look at a one-timer off a face-off early in the power play that could have changed the game. Instead, Palat raced over to get his body in front and block it away.
The Lightning penalty kill went four-for-four on Thursday, and Palat played a major role in the success of that special teams unit.
"We took a penalty right after they scored, and that's the one you need to kill off and we did," Cooper said.
Video: BUF@TBL: Hedman finds Kucherov to extend Bolts' lead
3. 60-MINUTE EFFORT
Too often during the Lightning's four-game losing skid, the Bolts would start a game well and feel pretty good about themselves after a period only to come out flat for the second and get outplayed the rest of the way.
The Lightning were in desperate need of a full, 60-minute effort, and they got it against Buffalo, save for a few shaky moments with the lead in the third.
"I think we played really good defensively today," said Hedman, a departure from the last four games when the Lightning gave up 22 combined goals. "(The Sabres) had a little push in the third. We had a breakdown there on the goal, but that's going to happen. You're going to have breakdowns. Very happy with the overall effort in the defensive end, and, like we've said all along, we know we're going to score goals, it's just about keeping the puck out of our own net. Obviously way better today and just got to make this the standard moving forward, and we have another big test tomorrow."
Versus Buffalo, which entered having tallied seven of a possible eight points from its previous four games, the Lightning shook off an unfortunate goal against early to control play in the first period.
And, most importantly, they maintained that same level of play and even increased it in the second.
"Tonight was a pretty good game I thought by everybody, and we didn't give them too much," Bishop said. "We scored when we had chances, so we'll take it."