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Sabres-Lightning Preview

GAME: Buffalo Sabres (3-1-0) at Tampa Bay Lightning (2-2-0).

TIME: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EDT.

The Tampa Bay Lightning aren't playing like defending Stanley Cup champions just yet.

They'll try to shake off their early season struggles as they host the Buffalo Sabres.

Since opening with a 5-2 win over Carolina on Oct. 5, the Lightning have dropped two of three, scoring just four goals during that stretch.

"Right now we're struggling. We're not controlling the puck," said defenseman Dan Boyle after a 4-2 home loss to Boston on Monday.

Tampa Bay has scored nine goals and is 2-for-28 on the power play this season, including 0-for-6 on Monday.

Fredrik Modin and Dan Boyle scored Monday for Tampa Bay, which fell to 2-2. The Lightning went 13-1-3 in October in the previous two seasons.

Coming off a 3-2 win in overtime over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday, the Sabres are beginning a three-game road trip.

Jochen Hecht jammed in a loose puck from in close with 20 seconds left in overtime for the victory.

"I just whacked it in and it trickled in over the line, barely," Hecht said. "Finally, something went in."

Buffalo, which lost 5-0 at Ottawa on Saturday, got a lift from its fourth-liners in a game it never trailed.

Mike Grier, with a cross-ice pass, set up Rory Fitzpatrick, who was pinching in from the point, to open the scoring three minutes in. Rookie Paul Gaustad converted a rebound in front midway through the second period.

"All camp we've been saying everybody's got to do a little bit of everything," Gaustad said. "It's a team effort every night and I think that's how we're going to win."

Buffalo is 3-0 at home, its best home start since going 5-0 to open the 1984-85 season.

On Tuesday, the Sabres gave coach Lindy Ruff a one-year contract extension. Ruff is in his eighth season with Buffalo, and is the NHL's longest-tenured coach with the same team.

STANDINGS: Sabres - 6 points, 3rd place, 2 PB, Northeast Division. Lightning - 4 points, 2nd place (tied), 2 PB, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Sabres - Maxim Afinogenov, 3 goals; Toni Lydman, 3 assists; Daniel Briere, 4 points; Teppo Numminen and Jay McKee, 6 PIM. Lightning - Boyle and Modin, 2 goals; Vaclav Prospal and Dave Andreychuk, 3 assists; Vaclav Prospal, 4 points; Modin and Chris Dingman, 6 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Oct. 11): Sabres - Power play: 13.3 percent (4 for 30), 21 in NHL. Penalty killing: 78.9 percent (15 for 19), 22nd. Lightning - Power play: 7.1 percent (2 for 28), 28th. Penalty killing: 92.0 percent (23 for 25), 5th.

GOALTENDERS: Sabres - Ryan Miller (3-1-0, 0 SO, 2.95 GAA; Martin Biron (0-0, 0, 1.00 GAA); Lightning - John Grahame (2-2-0, 0, 2.11); Sean Burke (0-0-0, 0, 0.00).

2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Lightning, 1-3-1.

LAST MEETING: March 18, 2004; Lightning, 3-1. At Tampa, Fla., Tim Taylor snapped a tie 52 seconds into the third period, and Nikolai Khabibulin made 25 saves for the Lightning.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Sabres - 1-1-0 on the road; Lightning - 2-1-0 at home.

Associated Press
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