TAMPA — Goalie Ben Bishop's much-anticipated return Thursday didn't begin well.
Three minutes in, on Buffalo's first shot, Matt Moulson beat Bishop short side on an odd-man rush.
"It would have been nice to start with a little easier one," Bishop said, smiling.
But Bishop settled in and helped lift the Lightning to a crucial 4-2 win over the Sabres, which snapped a four-game losing streak. Bishop had his hands all over this victory, racking up 24 saves and four penalty minutes, and setting up the go-ahead goal with one of many calming plays behind the net.
"He was phenomenal," defenseman Victor Hedman said. "He was calm with the puck. He made some big saves for us. It was really fun to see him play with confidence and obviously be a difference-maker."
If the Lightning (20-19-4) is going to fight its way back into a playoff spot, it will need more nights like this from Bishop, a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist. It would also help the Lightning to play as well defensively in front of him as it did Thursday. After giving up 22 goals in its four-game skid, the Lightning was much better in its zone, giving up just 15 shots in the first two periods.
"We have to make this our standard," Hedman said.
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The Lightning played with energy, dictating the pace. Thought it allowed the first goal — for the 27th time in 43 games this season — it didn't fold, scoring the next three. "I really like the way we bounced back," coach Jon Cooper said.
Wing Ondrej Palat answered three minutes after Moulson's goal with a goal on a 5-on-3 power play. Palat's second goal, five minutes into the second period, gave the Lightning the lead for good. He nearly had a hat trick as part of two odd-man rushes on a penalty kill in the third.
"Palat was a beast," Cooper said. "He was all over the ice."
So was Hedman, who picked up an assist on Nikita Kucherov's goal to make it 3-1. He also energized the bench with a rare fight at the end of the second period. After Buffalo forward Marcus Foligno got a few shots in while Hedman was turned around, the 6-foot-6 defenseman rallied with a few big blows of his own. It was just Hedman's fifth career NHL fight, and his first since 2013.
"It's been awhile," Hedman said. "But we stand up for one another. Not afraid to do that."
Said Palat: "He was mad."
The Lightning played a little too safely in the third with a two-goal lead, and the lead soon became one. Midway through, Evander Kane scored after a scramble, Bishop having lost his stick. Tampa Bay's penalty kill — 4-for-4 — helped seal the win with a late third-period kill. "That was the one you need to kill off," Cooper said.
And at the center was Bishop, who made the night easier for defensemen with his ability to play the puck, including helping start the rush on Kucherov's goal. And Bishop said he was ready to play tonight against Columbus.
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"It's good to have him back," Cooper said.
First Period—1, Buffalo, Moulson 9 (Girgensons, Fedun), 2:58. 2, Tampa Bay, Palat 8 (Johnson, Drouin), 5:37 (pp). Penalties—Okposo, BUF, (slashing), 3:54; Kane, BUF, (hooking), 5:12; Killorn, TB, (slashing), 11:08.
Second Period—3, Tampa Bay, Palat 9 (Nesterov, Namestnikov), 5:18. 4, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 17 (Hedman, Palat), 12:58. Penalties—Bishop, TB, served by Peca, (high sticking), 13:20; Hedman, TB, Major (fighting), 20:00; Foligno, BUF, Major (fighting), 20:00.
Third Period—5, Buffalo, Kane 11 (Eichel, Falk), 10:30. 6, Tampa Bay, Stralman 2 (Filppula, Boyle), 19:42 (pp). Penalties—Kucherov, TB, (slashing), 0:44; Bishop, TB, served by Bournival, (delay of game), 10:41; Paquette, TB, Major (fighting), 15:27; Foligno, BUF, Major (fighting), 15:27; Gionta, BUF, (roughing), 15:27; Kane, BUF, served by Deslauriers, (high sticking), 17:43; Kane, BUF, served by Deslauriers, (unsportsmanlike conduct), 17:43; Kane, BUF, Misconduct (misconduct), 17:43. Shots on Goal—Buffalo 6-9-11—26. Tampa Bay 9-8-12—29. Power-play opportunities—Buffalo 0 of 4; Tampa Bay 2 of 5. Goalies—Buffalo, Nilsson 7-4-4 (28 shots-25 saves). Tampa Bay, Bishop 10-10-2 (26-24).