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Red-hot Sabres host surging Lightning

by Magalie Lafreni?re

LIGHTNING (16-15-10) at SABRES (26-11-4)

Last 10: Tampa Bay 5-4-1; Buffalo 6-2-2.

Season Series -- This is the second of four meetings between the teams. They faced off on Oct. 24, when the Sabres grabbed a 3-2 shootout win. Tyler Myers sealed the victory in the sixth round of the shootout, while Ryan Miller stopped all six Lightning attempts. Drew Stafford had scored for Buffalo with 17 seconds remaining in the third period to force overtime. Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos scored for Tampa Bay.

Big Story -- With the Sabres' 1-0 win over the Canadiens on Saturday, combined with the Boston Bruins' loss to the Rangers on Monday, Miller moved into first place for the best save percentage in the League at .934, passing Boston's Tuukka Rask. Miller also matched Ilya Bryzgalov for the most shutouts in the NHL with five. Miller's goals-against average (2.02) is second behind Rask, and he is tied for second for the most wins with 23. Named to the U.S. Olympic team on Friday, Miller will be determined to stay as sharp as ever as he aims to be the No. 1 goalie for the red, white and blue.

Team Scope:

Lightning -- The Lightning are on a bit of a roll. Tampa defeated the defending Stanley Cup champions in a 3-1 victory against Pittsburgh and registered their 12th point in seven games. Several Lightning players also recorded milestones in the big win. Goaltender Mike Smith, in his sixth straight start, made 25 saves and earned his 50th career victory, while Steve Downie scored in his 100th career game and Zenon Konopka scored the game-winner on his 29th birthday. But more impressive than these milestones was that the Lighting killed off all four of the Penguins' power plays and extended their streak of successful penalty kills to 15. Martin St. Louis also scored his ninth goal of the season.

"I don't know if it's better on your birthday or against the Stanley Cup champs," said Konopka, who has six goals in 79 NHL games. "Obviously, it would have meant nothing if we lost, so a game-winner on your birthday is pretty cool."

Sabres -- Buffalo is looking for its fifth straight victory on Wednesday.  After a shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators on Dec. 26, coach Lindy Ruff shuffled his lines and placed Tim Connolly with Jochen Hecht and Jason Pominville. The move seemed to pay off on Saturday, as all Buffalo needed was one goal from Connolly to grab the 1-0 win over the Canadiens.  Hecht and Pominville both assisted on the goal. Miller gave the Sabres a 30-save performance, including a number a big saves in the final minutes of the third period when Montreal had pulled its goaltender. The victory moved the Sabres into second place in the Eastern Conference.

"That was a pretty solid effort," Ruff said. "It was maybe a little sluggish the first 10 minutes, but after that I liked our compete (level). I liked our battle. I thought we made it really tough on them to get high-quality opportunities."

Who's Hot -- St. Louis is riding a seven-game point streak with 10 points. Stamkos, Matthias Ohlund and Downie all had a two-point night against the Penguins and with an assist on Saturday, Lecavalier now has nine points in seven games.

Besides the outstanding performances of Miller, Hecht now has five points in his last four games and Connolly is riding a six-game point streak for Buffalo with five goals and four assists.

Injury Report -- Sabres right wing Patrick Kaleta (leg) is questionable for Wednesday, but skated on the fourth line at practice on Tuesday. … Defenseman Matt Walker (lower body) participated in full practice on Monday and could make his return to the lineup against the Sabres. While neither center Jeff Halpern (lower body) or left wing Todd Fedoruk (knee) are expected to play Wednesday,  Halpern is practicing and Fedoruk has been participating in off-ice workouts. Defeseman Paul Ranger is out for personal reasons and left wing Alex Tanguay missed practice on Monday with intestinal problems.

Stat Pack-- When leading after two periods, the Sabres have won all 16 games they've played in.

Puck Drop -- "We're not there yet just because we won a few games. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. It's starting to change in the right direction." -- Lightning forward Zenon Kenopka

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