SABRES (18-35-8) at LIGHTNING (34-23-5)
TV: MSG-B, BELL TV, SUN
Last 10: Buffalo 4-5-1; Tampa Bay 3-7-0
Season series: This is the third of four games between the Buffalo Sabres and Tampa Bay Lightning. Alex Killorn's overtime goal gave the Lightning a 3-2 win at First Niagara Center on Oct. 8, while a late goal by Ondrej Palat led them to another 3-2 victory at Tampa Bay Times Forum on Oct. 26.
Big story: Steven Stamkos returns and a new chapter in the history of the Lightning begins Thursday after Martin St. Louis was traded to the New York Rangers on Wednesday for Ryan Callahan in a swap of team captains.
Sabres: Twenty-one games remain for Buffalo to audition young talent for next season. The Sabres followed up the huge trade with the St. Louis Blues last week that saw goalie Ryan Miller and forward Steve Ott moved by also parting ways with the goalie they got back in that trade, Jaroslav Halak, as well as forwards Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick and defenseman Brayden McNabb prior to the NHL Trade Deadline passing on Wednesday.
Michal Neuvirth, acquired from the Washington Capitals for Halak, joins Jhonas Enroth as the new goalie tandem. Each is 25 years old. Veteran forward Torrey Mitchell comes over from the Minnesota Wild in the package for Moulson and McCormick. Forward Hudson Fasching, seen by general manager Tim Murray as a top-six prospect, was part of the McNabb trade. The Sabres also added forward Cory Conacher off waivers from the Ottawa Senators.
"We were focused today," general manager Tim Murray said, "and on Draft Day, if players are available, we can be aggressive, and if not we can keep adding young talent."
Lightning: This is the start of a six-game homestand for Tampa Bay, giving the fans plenty of opportunity to get used to seeing Stamkos zip around the ice again and come to terms with the absence of St. Louis, who joined the organization for the 2000-01 season, was part of a Stanley Cup team in 2004 and six times reached at least 30 goals and 80 points.
"I'm going to utilize all the skills Marty has taught me over the years," Stamkos said in the Tampa Bay Times. "He's taught me a lot of things and he's taught a lot of guys a lot of things. We learn from that and get stronger as a team. That's the only way we can get through this."
Callahan, who has scored as many as 29 goals in a season, is an unrestricted free agent after this season. He was traded after being unable to reach an agreement with the Rangers on an extension, but general manager Steve Yzerman said he hopes to sign Callahan to a new contract.
"I've heard nothing but good things from players that have played there," Callahan told TSN. "… They're in the playoff hunt too, which is big. I'm excited to get down there to Tampa and get going."
Who's hot: Sabres forward Tyler Ennis returned Monday to score both their goals in a 3-2 loss to the Dallas Stars. He has four goals in the past three games he's played. … Lightning forward Teddy Purcell has an assist in four of the past five games.
Injury report: Tampa Bay defenseman Radko Gudas (leg) missed the game Tuesday and is day-to-day.