TAMPA — Lightning coach Jon Cooper had quite a list of things he said Ondrej Palat does well.
He plays defense. He controls the puck. He plays physically.
And for the past few games, Cooper said, Palat has been the Lightning's best player: "He's doing almost everything, but give the kid a cape."
It was fitting, then, that Palat got the winning goal in Saturday night's 3-2 victory over the Sabres in front of an announced crowd of 18,088 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
"A great feeling," the rookie left wing said, "just perfect."
It was not an easy win. A power play that would rather pass than shoot was 1-for-6, and the Lightning had 15 puck giveaways and 20 turnovers.
It also needed goals from Marty St. Louis and Palat in 1:46 of the third period to overcome a 2-1 deficit and goaltender Ryan Miller, who was exceptional with 36 saves as Tampa Bay had a 39-22 shot advantage.
Tyler Johnson also scored. Steven Stamkos' pinpoint cross-ice pass set up St. Louis' one-timer, and goalie Ben Bishop made 19 saves as the Lightning (7-3-0) finished a seven-game homestand 5-2-0.
"We're not looking for perfection; we're looking for results," St. Louis said. "You try to correct mistakes as you go and be honest with how you assess your game individually and collectively. After that, it's finding ways. We've done that."
As has Palat, 22, in his 24th NHL game, who plays so efficiently it sometimes is difficult to spot his contributions. Against the Sabres he had four shots and three hits, and was plus-1. But before his goal, his most noticeable moment was missing an open net during a second-period penalty kill.
It was a difficult play — Johnson's pass was in Palat's skates — but it stuck with Palat, and he hoped for another chance. That came with 4:05 left in the third period on a scramble in front of the net that ended with Palat's third goal of the season.
Cooper called it a "100 percent, blue-collar, work-ethic goal." Palat simplified it.
"I passed it to (Johnson), and he shot it, and there was a rebound, and it hit my skate," Palat said. "I saw Miller was out of the net, so I just shot it."
"He's not a flashy guy, but he just does everything so well," right wing Teddy Purcell said. "He's smart, and he battles."
And consider this: Of Palat's five career goals, two are winners, not a bad percentage.
"He's just extremely dependable," Cooper said. "When he makes a mistake, you're almost shocked that it happened. And it doesn't happen very often."
First—1, Tampa Bay, Johnson 3 (Filppula, Carle), 12:48 (pp). Penalties—Larsson, Buf (hooking), 11:16; Ehrhoff, Buf (hooking), 14:58; Crombeen, TB (interference), 17:38.
Second—2, Buffalo, Flynn 2 (McCormick, Leino), 12:58. Penalties—Ott, Buf (interference), :47; McCormick, Buf (cross-checking), 2:41; Ennis, Buf (hooking), 8:03; Malone, TB (roughing), 9:32; Thompson, TB (boarding), 16:00; Tallinder, Buf (tripping), 19:00.
Third—3, Buffalo, Vanek 4 (Foligno, Girgensons), 12:46. 4, Tampa Bay, St. Louis 6 (Stamkos, Gudas), 14:09. 5, Tampa Bay, Palat 3 (Johnson), 15:55. Penalties—None. Shots on Goal—Buffalo 6-13-3—22. Tampa Bay 12-15-12—39. Power-play opportunities—Buffalo 0 of 3; Tampa Bay 1 of 6. Goalies—Buffalo, Miller 1-8-0 (39 shots-36 saves). Tampa Bay, Bishop 7-1-0 (22-20). A—18,088 (19,204).