Saturday night’s 3-2 win against the Buffalo Sabres was a big one for the Tampa Bay Lightning. And not just because they have struggled against Buffalo through their first two head-to-head matchups this season.*
The seventh and final game of a long home stand, Tampa Bay’s battle against Buffalo was the definition of a trap game.
*Thank God the Bolts don’t have to deal with Buffalo again for a while. Their next matchup is on March 6 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Here are a few of the ways the Lightning could have stepped in the Punji trap against the Sabres:
- Tampa Bay was coming off its second win of the season against the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks. A young team like the Lightning could easily let that get to its head. Undefeated against the ‘Hawks!!! Woooo!!! **
- A team that is, perhaps, feeling a little cocky playing host to arguably the worst team in the NHL — Buffalo is 2-10-1 and has played four more games than Philadelphia, the 29th-ranked team in the league points-wise — could be expected to coast a little bit.
- The game fell on the opening night of what will be the Lightning’s first back-to-back of the season. A match-up with the Florida Panthers looms on Sunday evening, and they surely could have been caught looking ahead.
- The Sabres were on the second night of their third back-to-back in October. They used a lot of energy to take down the Panthers on Friday night in what was just their second win of the season. The Bolts couldn’t be faulted for expecting a depleted team to take the ice for Buffalo.
- Mark Barberio and Keith Aulie, who had been scratched in all but one game this season prior to Saturday night, were in the lineup because Tampa Bay didn’t want them to get rusty due to lack of playing time. Plus, with a game on Sunday, it was as good a time as any to give some regulars a rest. In other words, even the Bolts coaching staff thought this was a good night to try coast to victory. And with Barberio and Aulie in the lineup, the Bolts scratched Andrej Sustr (8 games played) and Pierre-Cedric Labrie (8 games played). This left the Lightning with 11 forwards and seven defensemen, as opposed to the customary 12 forward, six defensemen lineup they have been running for most of the season. This could only negatively affect the cohesiveness of Tampa Bay’s lines and the overall fluidity of their play.
**The two teams don’t play again this season.
There was one other factor that had the potential to negatively impact the Lightning’s shot at a win. The Sun Sports announcing team even came up with a cool name for it: Ryan Miller. The man made 36 of 39 saves, single-handedly keeping Buffalo in the game. They even led late in the third period!
Tampa Bay managed to overcome all of these factors, though, pulling out a victory despite going one-for-six on the power play. A lot of hockey fans glancing at box scores from Saturday may have been unmoved by this victory, but I was impressed. This was the kind of victory that many young teams could quickly turn into a defeat. As far as I’m concerned, the veteran leadership of Martin St. Louis cannot be underestimated for the Lightning.
And here’s my bold prediction: The Lightning will come out stronger on Sunday against Florida than they did on Saturday against Buffalo. The Bolts are a team that is still learning how to handle the highs, and being challenged by a team like the Sabres is a good thing because it brings them back down to Earth in a hurry. Expect them — likely with Sustr and Labrie back in the lineup — to look sharper against the Panthers on Sunday.
- The victory against the Sabres on Saturday ended a seven-game home stand for Tampa Bay. They finished the stretch 5-2, impressive when you consider the quality of teams that came to the Forum.
- Goaltender Ben Bishop (20/22 against Buffalo) has started the season 7-1 for the Lightning with a .914 save percentage and 2.47 goals-against average. Have the Bolts found their man?
- St. Louis was on the ice for 22:33 against Buffalo, while Steven Stamkos was on the ice for 23:28. Each man clocked his second-longest game of the season.
- If you haven’t seen Steven Stamkos’ Emmy award-winning performance from this Coke Zero commercial yet, watch it now. Seriously.
What did everybody else think?