How do you follow back-to-back wins against the Montreal Canadiens, a team atop the NHL standings? Beat the team they’re tied with.
The Buffalo Sabres did just that Tuesday night as they downed the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in the shootout at First Niagara Center.
Jhonas Enroth continued his stellar play, stopping 26 shots and another two in the shootout for Buffalo.
Sabres center Zemgus Girgensons tied the game with 3:54 remaining in the third period for his eighth point (5+3) in his past eight games. Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis each scored in the shootout while Enroth shut the door to seal the victory.
Buffalo has now won three games in a row and six of their past seven.
“Obviously the confidence is a little bit higher now,” Enroth said. “We’ve beaten a couple of great teams here the last couple of games so we know we can beat every team in the league, especially beating Montreal back to back there. We’re just going to try to build on that momentum and stay positive and take it day by day.”
Enroth is now 4-1-0 in five career games against the Lightning with a .951 save percentage and a 1.56 goals-against average.
He’s also been great for the Sabres in recent games. He’s started the past five games and in his last six appearances, he’s 5-1-0 with a .953 save percentage and a 1.55 goals-against average.
He’s also 3-0 in the shootout this year and has stopped 14 of 15 shooters. He believes his success in the shootout has come from arduous preparation.
“Obviously it’s a little bit knowing who you’re going up against but the key is really just practice a lot of shootouts in practice,” he 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. He stayed after practice and practiced shootouts. That’s what I’ve been doing the last couple months here and it’s paid off.”
Tampa Bay took a 1-0 lead when Ondrej Palat knocked home a rebound 9:52 into the third period. Buffalo didn’t back down and worked to get the tying goal a few minutes later. After Tyler Myers put a rocket on net, Girgensons chipped the rebound up and over goaltender Evgeni Nabokov.
After an October in which the team finished 2-8-1, they began to play better hockey in November, going 6-6-1 over the course of the month. Now they open the month of December 1-0-0.
“It’s just fun to play, you know?” Girgensons said. “We come into the locker room before the game, we come in thinking about winning. That’s a habit to win and we hope to keep it going.”
The Sabres held Tampa Bay to two shots on goal in the first period, the fewest since they allowed only one shot against in the third period on March 17, 2012 against the Florida Panthers. The Sabres and Lightning ended the first period scoreless.
Tampa Bay came back to outshoot the Sabres 16-4 in the second period, but thanks in large part to Enroth’s play, the Lightning were unable to break through.
“The one thing we are doing is we’re getting better and we’re working on certain things,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “In part of getting better is that resilience. Just keep going, just keep going. You never know what’s going to happen. That game here tonight was one of those things.”
Tampa Bay’s captain and leading scorer Steven Stamkos was held without a point and registered only one shot on goal.
Myers, who led the team with 26:16 of ice time, and his defensive partner Josh Gorges, who returned after missing seven games due to a knee injury, were matched up against Stamkos for much of the night. Myers is pleased with the way his squad has played lately.
“We’re starting to play the right way, starting to play the way we need to be successful and there are obviously areas we can clean up,” he said. “But we really like the direction we’re heading right now. It’s just a matter of coming to the rink and trying to improve every day.”
The Sabres and Lightning will face off again on Thursday in Tampa Bay.