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Sabres top Lightning in shootout for third win in row

by Joe Yerdon

BUFFALO -- When trying to figure out why the Buffalo Sabres have won three straight and six of their past seven games, the answer is in goal.

Jhonas Enroth made 26 saves in regulation and overtime, then stopped both shooters in the tiebreaker to give the Buffalo Sabres a 2-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning at First Niagara Center on Tuesday.

Enroth has appeared in six consecutive games and has won five of them. The past three wins came against two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference; before defeating the Lightning, the Sabres completed a home-and-home sweep of the Montreal Canadiens.

"Obviously the confidence is a little bit higher now," Enroth said. "We beat a couple of great teams the last couple of games, so we know we can beat every team in the League, especially beating Montreal back-to-back there, and we just are going to try to build on that momentum and stay positive and take it day by day."

Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis scored on Buffalo's first two attempts of the shootout, and Enroth stopped Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan to give the Sabres the win.

"Obviously it's a little bit knowing who you're going up against, but the key is really to practice a lot of shootouts in practice," Enroth said. "I saw Ryan Miller here for a couple years, and he was great in shootouts and he got a lot of extra wins in shootouts and he stayed after practice and practiced shootouts, and that's what I've been doing the last couple months here, and it paid off."

In his past six appearances, Enroth has stopped 183 of 192 shots for a .953 save percentage.

Before winning six of seven, the Sabres had lost five straight and had won three of their first 18 games.

"The one thing we are doing is we're getting better and we're working on certain things," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. "Part of getting better is that resiliency, to keep going and keep going. You never know what's going to happen, so that game here tonight is one of those things where it didn't look good, but [Zemgus] Girgensons got that big one, and then the shootout was really impressive."

Girgensons tied the game with 3:54 left in the third period. He picked up a rebound of a Tyler Myers shot and floated the puck into the net past downed Lightning goalie Evgeni Nabokov.

"Honestly, I thought I had it because it hit my ribs, and that's why I was leaning back," Nabokov said. "I thought I had it and then I saw the puck fly out. So that's when I needed long arms, I guess."

Girgensons leads the Sabres with eight goals.

"[Girgensons] has been that way since he entered the organization," Myers said. "He's an extremely hard worker, and I think that goes to show why he's having the success he's having."

Josh Gorges earned the 100th assist of his career on Girgensons's goal. He was playing for the first time since Nov. 11, missing seven games because of a knee injury.

Palat opened the scoring when he put a loose puck past Enroth at 9:52 of the third period. Tyler Johnson set up Palat when he sent the puck around defenseman Tyson Strachan and off Enroth. Palat tapped in the puck for his seventh goal.

"I think we stepped up in the second and third period and I think we played hard, it was a back-to-back game," Palat said. "We played well for two periods, but we have to score more goals than one."

The Sabres held the Lightning to two shots on goal in the first period. It's the fewest number of shots they've allowed in a period this season and the fewest allowed in a period since March 17, 2012, against the Florida Panthers, when they allowed one shot on goal in the third period.

"We were shorthanded early a couple times, so we were kind of on our heels a bit," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "Did we put ourselves in positions for some quality Grade A early scoring chances? We did and we passed them up every time. That was tough. You look at our shots attempted, it wasn't that bad, we just gave up our Grade As. Give Buffalo credit, they were in lanes and blocking shots and doing everything they had to do. But for us to have two shots in a period, [it] doesn't give you a big-time chance to have success."

Tampa Bay outshot Buffalo 16-4 in the second period, 27-22 overall.

"The first period wasn't too tough for me, so I had a little bit of extra energy for the second period and I kind of knew that they were going to come out hard, and a team like Tampa Bay is obviously not happy with having only two shots in the first," Enroth said. "So I knew they were going to come out and shoot a lot and just tried to stay sharp."

Nabokov made 21 saves in his sixth start.

"He played well," Cooper said. "They won the faceoff, got the shot, got the break, it went in. Sometimes when one of those goes in, but we only scored one, so if we had two on the board, you can look past that. But I thought [Nabokov] was strong in the pipes for us tonight. He gave us a chance to win for sure."

The Sabres travel to Tampa to face the Lightning again Thursday.

"I'm not going to stay here and make excuses, but we know the situation …" Nabokov said. "We'll take the point and we'll go back and see them again."

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