BUFFALO, N.Y. — Mathieu Garon said he was so focused Tuesday night, he could not recall any save in enough detail to characterize one as his best.
Let us, then, focus on the big picture because if not for the goaltender's 36 saves, no way the Lightning escapes from the First Niagara Center with a 4-3 victory over the Sabres and a sweep of the home-and-home series.
"He held his ground," left wing Ryan Malone said, "and gave us a chance to win."
It was the third straight win for Tampa Bay (4-3-2) and the third straight for Garon since taking over for the struggling Dwayne Roloson.
But unlike the previous two when the Lightning played suffocating defense, this game was sloppy.
Tampa Bay allowed 39 shots, one more than in its previous two games. It had 18 turnovers on seven giveaways and 11 Buffalo takeaways. It allowed four breakaways.
And when Thomas Vanek and Brad Boyes scored in 35 seconds, both off turnovers, Tampa Bay was down 2-0 2:31 into the game.
But the Lightning slowly built momentum and got goals from Vinny Lecavalier, Nate Thompson, Steven Stamkos and Malone on a breakaway off a Brett Clark block with 1:23 left in the third period for a 4-2 lead.
Nathan Gerbe's goal with 49.2 seconds left made it 4-3, but that did not diminish Garon's game as the Lightning was outshot 39-23 and 17-7 in the third.
"You've got to battle through it," Garon said. "The easiest thing to do is quit. We had a terrible start. None of us played good. But after that, we stuck to the game plan and battled."
The battle, coach Guy Boucher said, was more for the hearts of the players than their minds.
Boucher said there was so little emotion on the bench the game was "one of the toughest I had to coach in the NHL. … Sometimes you have to fight the opponent. Sometimes you have to fight yourself. We definitely had to fight ourselves."
Even so, a couple of fights against the opponent helped turn the tide.
Steve Downie battled Patrick Kaleta in the first after Kaleta ran rookie Brett Connolly. Malone went after Robyn Regehr in the second after he rocked Lecavalier with a check.
"We just did what we had to do," Downie said.
Said Boucher: "It helped the emotional level."
Garon helped level the playing field. He stopped three breakaways, two by Vanek, and made two sensational leg saves on Derek Roy to keep the deficit 2-0.
"That's what it takes," Boucher said, "a goalie who gets you through the tough moments in a game so that you can get your head above water."
Regardless of which save was his best.
First—1, Buffalo, Vanek 7 (Pominville, Adam), 1:56. 2, Buffalo, Boyes 1 (McCormick, Ellis), 2:31. 3, Tampa Bay, Lecavalier 4 (St. Louis), 13:03. 4, Tampa Bay, Thompson 2 (Pyatt, Moore), 19:00. Penalties—Vanek, Buf (hooking), 9:12; Downie, TB, major (fighting), 13:20; Kaleta, Buf, major (fighting), 13:20.
Second—5, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 4 (Gilroy, Bergeron), 4:42. Penalties—Malone, TB (roughing), 4:37; Regehr, Buf (roughing), 4:37; Thompson, TB (tripping), 5:12; Hedman, TB (hooking), 9:39; Stafford, Buf (tripping), 11:15.
Third—6, Tampa Bay, Malone 3 (Clark), 18:37. 7, Buffalo, Gerbe 2 (Boyes, Gaustad), 19:10. Penalties—McCormick, Buf (goaltender interference), 6:27; Lecavalier, TB (hooking), 14:07. Shots—Tampa Bay 10-6-7—23. Buffalo 15-7-17—39. Power plays—Tampa Bay 0 of 3; Buffalo 0 of 3. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Garon 3-1-1 (39 shots-36 saves). Buffalo, Miller 4-3-0 (23-19). A—18,690 (18,690). T—2:27. Referees—Jean Hebert, Kevin Pollock. Linesmen—David Brisebois, Scott Cherrey.