LIGHTNING (30-32-12) at SABRES (40-23-10)
Tampa Bay 3-6-1; Buffalo 6-3-1
Fourth and final meeting of the regular season. The Lightning will be looking to return the favor after the Sabres pasted them 6-2 in Tampa in the most recent matchup on March 18, with Jason Pominville
recording the hat trick. Buffalo, which also owns wins of 3-2 (in a shootout) and 5-3, will try to complete the season sweep.
The Sabres missed a chance to clinch their first playoff berth in three seasons when they lost on home ice to the Senators on Friday. They get an immediate second chance to make the faithful at HSBC Arena happy. The Lightning, fresh off the 500th win in franchise history, are six points out of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot and, with only eight regular-season games remaining, have run out of any margin for error.
They're basically all must-wins for Tampa Bay at this point, and the team got off to a good start Thursday against Boston, the team that currently holds down eighth. A pair of goals from Steven Stamkos
, tying him with Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin for the League lead, and two more from Paul Szczechura
led the Lightning to a critical 5-3 victory. Antero Niittymaki made a team-record 47 saves to repeatedly thwart the Bruins.
"We played pretty well," Szczechura said. "We knew they were a good team and that it was a playoff-type atmosphere out there. We just played our game."
The first thing Buffalo has going for it on Saturday is the team lined up on the other side of the ice isn't from Ottawa. The Sabres have now lost nine in a row to their Northeast Division rivals following a 4-2 setback on Friday. The Senators closed to within five points of the Sabres, who still hold two games in hand.
"They're playing a certain kind of system against us and it goes against our group of forwards," goalie Ryan Miller
said. "We've got to suck it up and play a better game."
Stamkos has three goals in as many games and six points in his last five games for the Lightning. Martin St. Louis
has three goals in the last two games. Vincent Lecavalier
has two goals and three assists during a five-game points streak. Steve Downie
has two goals and an assist during a three-game points streak.
Pominville has six goals and six assists in his last nine games for the Sabres. Jochen Hecht
has three goals in the last four games. Tim Connolly and Tim Kennedy each have two goals in the last three games.
Downie (knee) and Tampa defensemen David Hale (lower body) and Kurtis Foster (head) are day-to-day. Forward Ryan Malone
is out following arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. Defenseman Mattias Ohlund
is out indefinitely with a sprained left ankle. … Buffalo forward Raffi Torres has missed the previous four games with a banged-up hand and wrist.
As bad as the Sabres have been against the Senators, they've been as good against the Lightning. They have won 16 of the 19 games played since the start of the 2005-06 season, with Miller starting each time and posting a 2.71 goals-against average.
Inconsistent as Tampa Bay has been this season, it is a team with plenty of weapons. Stamkos and Niittymaki have combined to steal points from more than a couple unsuspecting opponents this season, so Buffalo will have to improve upon its play from Friday night in order to get the job done this time and wrap up a postseason berth.