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Stamkos scores winner, Lightning defeat Sabres

by Corey Long /

TAMPA -- Facing a potential upset and a goalie playing his best game of the season, the Tampa Bay Lightning leaned on their captain to survive.

Steven Stamkos scored with 5:18 remaining in the third period to give the Lightning a 2-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres at Amalie Arena on Friday.

The Lightning (27-12-4) have won seven of their past eight games and remain atop the Eastern Conference standings with 58 points.

Stamkos' 22nd goal came on a 2-on-1 with Jonathan Drouin providing the assist on the wing. Stamkos sent a wrist shot over Buffalo goalie Michal Neuvirth.

Stamkos has scored four points (three goals) in the past nine games.

"I still want to be the guy that can come through for my team in these situations," he said. "Even though my production hasn't been what I want lately, I still have the confidence to see myself as a good player in this league and a guy who can step up in certain situations. That's always going to be my mindset."

Stamkos' goal was one of the few shots Neuvirth (45 saves) was not able to stop. He withstood waves of pressure and kept the score close but was not able to get his first win since Nov. 18.

"I was trying to stay patient and when [Drouin] passed it to Stamkos I know he's going high," Neuvirth said. “He’s such a great shooter and hit it perfectly."

The Sabres (14-26-3), who have lost their past seven games, tied the game 1-1 with a shorthanded goal 50 seconds into the second period. Forward Cody McCormick capitalized on a Lightning turnover in the neutral zone and pushed a shot past goalie Ben Bishop on a breakaway.

"Neuvirth played one [heck] of a game for us," Buffalo wing Patrick Kaleta said. "He deserves a win after that. We got chasing around there a little bit in our zone. We've just got to learn to calm down and play our game and weather the storm."

The Lightning outshot the Sabres 27-5 in the second period, the shots a franchise high for one period. Neuvirth made numerous big saves, including stopping Nikita Kucherov on a breakaway.

"I think we've had a few periods where we haven't been rewarded but we stick with it,"

Stamkos said. "You get a little frustrated but you know eventually it's going to go in unless the goalie stands on his head for sixty minutes, which he almost did. Two was enough tonight, however, and we'll take it."

The goal siren accidentally went off when Lightning forward Brett Connolly rushed the net with a backhand shot that Neuvirth saved with his glove. Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman knocked a slap shot off the post, and Neuvirth saved a one-timer from Stamkos in the slot in the final minute of the period.

"It's tough to swallow right now, but I thought we gave it our best," Neuvirth said. "It was a tough start, and after that I made a couple of saves and settled down. I've been feeling better and better even in our practices, so it's definitely good for my confidence, but it's only one game. You've got to keep working hard and get out of the situation."

Tampa Bay took a 1-0 lead 3:51 into the first period when Valtteri Filppula scored his eighth goal. Ryan Callahan rushed the net and got a shot on Neuvirth, who failed to cover the loose puck that Filppula put in the open net.

"We didn't fall behind in this one, but it was tough," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "Opening shift, we're coming out [on] the power play and give up a shorthanded goal. We had every reason to maybe hang our head a little bit. Tip your hat to the kid in goal, Neuvirth, he was outstanding."

The Lightning have won five straight home games, each by one goal.

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