TAMPA — Steven Stamkos said he and Marty St. Louis joked before Tuesday's game that with new Lightning coach Jon Cooper planning to watch from the press box, they had to step it up.
"I think it's in the back of everyone's mind, when you have a new coach watching the game," Stamkos said. "Especially from up top — he sees everything."
The Lightning likely made a good first impression in a 2-1 win over the Sabres before 19,204 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, snapping a three-game skid. St. Louis and Stamkos each scored and goalie Mathieu Garon was three minutes shy of a shutout.
Cooper, who planned to address the team after the game, said he hasn't given up on the playoffs. And by staying within six points of the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference with 16 games to go, his players aren't, either. Cooper's first game will be Friday.
"I'm proud of the guys and we have to keep this up," Stamkos said. "There's still a fighting chance and we're going to believe in that."
Stamkos believed Tuesday's strong effort was a continuation of the intensity displayed in Sunday's 3-2 loss in Winnipeg. This time, Tampa Bay got the result. The Lightning (14-18-1) gained momentum by striking first, late in the first period. Just after killing a Sabres penalty, St. Louis, down low in the Sabres zone, passed to Stamkos, who ripped a one-timer from the right circle.
"We wanted the puck today and made plays," Stamkos said. "And it showed out there."
The Lightning showed toughness, including defenseman Keith Aulie holding his own in a fight with Sabres wing Marcus Foligno seven minutes into the second period. Soon after, the Lightning had a five-on-three power play and took advantage, with St. Louis blasting a shot from the left circle.
"I thought our power play moved the puck really well," St. Louis said. "We probably could have scored more on the power play, but I think what we did on the power play is we kept the momentum."
Tampa Bay played well defensively, keeping Buffalo scoreless in four power-play chances. The Sabres scored with 3:08 left on defenseman Jordan Leopold's slap shot. "But we didn't panic," Stamkos said.
Dan Lacroix, serving as coach with fellow assistant Steve Thomas, said "the guys played extremely hard for each other, and showed they cared."
Lacroix later smiled, saying: "Having a new coach watching them probably helped a lot."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]
First—1, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 23 (St. Louis), 16:01. Penalties—Ott, Buf (tripping), 7:26; Conacher, TB (tripping), 13:41; Kaleta, Buf (unsportsmanlike conduct), 17:17; Stamkos, TB, served by Pouliot (cross-checking, roughing), 17:17; Johnson, TB (hooking), 20:00.
Second—2, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 8 (Purcell, Stamkos), 8:15 (pp). Penalties—Regehr, Buf (elbowing), 7:13; Foligno, Buf, major (fighting), 7:13; Aulie, TB, major (fighting), 7:13; Weber, Buf (boarding), 7:42.
Third—3, Buffalo, Leopold 2 (Foligno, Flynn), 16:52. Penalties—Ehrhoff, Buf (hooking), 4:28; Hedman, TB (hooking), 11:46; Weber, Buf (tripping), 14:05. Shots—Buffalo 4-5-5—14. Tampa Bay 2-16-5—23. Power-play opportunities—Buffalo 0 of 4; Tampa Bay 1 of 5. Goalies—Buffalo, Miller 11-14-4 (23 shots-21 saves). Tampa Bay, Garon 4-8-0 (14-13). A—19,204 (19,204). T—2:31. Referees—Wes McCauley, Kyle Rehman. Linesmen—Derek Amell, Pierre Racicot.