BUFFALO, N.Y. — Before Saturday night's game with the Sabres, Lightning coach Guy Boucher was asked if the game had more resonance because Buffalo was ahead of Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference standings.
"No," Boucher said. "We're not just chasing Buffalo; we're chasing everybody."
More efforts such as Tampa Bay's 2-1 win at the First Niagara Center would make that a lot easier. Steven Stamkos had two points and scored his league-best 37th goal, and Steve Downie scored the 50th of his career in a two-goal second period for the Lightning (24-24-6), which is 7-1-2 in its past 10 games.
Goalie Mathieu Garon made 26 saves as Tampa Bay had a 28-27 shot advantage and beat red-hot goaltender Ryan Miller, who entered on the best six-game stretch of his career: 5-0-1 with two shutouts, a 1.11 goals-against average and a .962 save percentage.
The game wasn't without drama.
Jason Pominville scored through Garon's legs 7:07 into the third period to make it 2-1. And Garon robbed Pominville with 4:52 left with a spread-eagle left-leg stop, his best save in a period in which the Lightning was outshot 14-5.
"I was a bit late," Garon said of his save. "I thought the guy on my right was going to shoot it. I had to stretch it. I was desperate a little bit."
The Lightning killed off its only penalty — tripping on J.T. Wyman — with 4:33 left. And Christian Ehrhoff clanged a shot off the crossbar with a minute left.
"That's what killed us in the beginning of the year," Stamkos said, "not being able to finish games like that and maybe not being able or willing to grind it out and pay the price."
The Lightning managed the end of the game solidly, Boucher said. "You can't be controlling the game until the end," he said. "You have to manage it. … It's all good."
The first period ended 0-0 but with Tampa Bay up 12-6 in shots. The only reason it was not leading was Miller. The Lightning played the final 1:43 of the period on the power play and took four shots, and each one seemed a tester.
Marty St. Louis broke free on Miller but could not get his backhand from in close past the goalie. Miller then smartly moved left to right to get a piece of Stamkos' blazing one-timer.
The Lightning kept the pressure on in the second period with an 11-7 shot advantage and allowed Buffalo just two shots in the period's final 16:49.
Tampa Bay took a 1-0 lead at 7:31 after about a minute of sustained pressure. Downie found a seam in front of the net, and after taking Hedman's perfect pass from the blue line, he did a quick deke on Miller and scored.
It was 2-0 with 6:44 left on Stamkos' goal at the end of a two-on-one with Teddy Purcell, who took the puck away from Buffalo's Drew Stafford then set up Stamkos for the one-timer from the left faceoff circle.
"I just tried to get as much wood on it as I could," Stamkos said. "Teddy made a great play."
First Period—None. Penalties—Ehrhoff, Buf (tripping), 18:17.
Second Period—1, Tampa Bay, Downie 9 (Hedman, Stamkos), 7:31. 2, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 37 (Purcell), 13:16. Penalties—Leopold, Buf (tripping), :42.
Third Period—3, Buffalo, Pominville 20 (Vanek, Weber), 7:07. Penalties—Kassian, Buf (slashing), 12:05; Wyman, TB (tripping), 15:27. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 12-11-5—28. Buffalo 6-7-14—27. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 3; Buffalo 0 of 1. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Garon 17-13-4 (27 shots-26 saves). Buffalo, Miller 16-16-3 (28-26).