TAMPA — This one shouldn't have been close.
The Lightning thoroughly dominated Friday's game against the woeful Sabres, outshooting them 27-5 in the second period, and 47-21 overall.
For most of the game, it felt like a Tampa Bay power play.
But Buffalo goalie Michal Neuvirth stole the show and darn near stole the game.
It wasn't until captain Steven Stamkos scored the go-ahead goal on a two-on-one with Jonathan Drouin with five minutes left that the Lightning could finally exhale, going on to beat Buffalo 2-1 in front of a sellout crowd of 19,204 at Amalie Arena.
It was Stamkos' 22nd goal of the season and second game-winner this week.
"Big players come out in big moments," coach Jon Cooper said, "and that's what he did."
It was Tampa Bay's seventh win in its past eight games, and one it had to have. The Sabres (14-26-3), playing on a back-to-back, have lost seven straight, and 10 of 11. But the Lightning (27-12-4) was a bit off, and thanks to a shorthanded goal by Buffalo's Cody McCormick 50 seconds into the second, the score was tied.
But the Lightning completely controlled the second, setting a franchise record for shots in a period.
Put it this way, in 29 of the Sabres' first 42 games, they had 26 or less shots all game. Neuvirth robbed Nikita Kucherov with a glove save on a breakaway. But his best stop came moments later, when Brett Connolly deked around defenseman Andre Benoit, and a sprawling Neuvirth got his glove on Connolly's forehand shot.
"Ridiculous," Connolly said.
Stamkos was stoned on a one-timer.
"He kept them in there," Stamkos said of Neuvirth. "There's no doubt he was the best player on the ice."
But Stamkos said there's been a "calming" feeling in the locker room the past few weeks. No matter how frustrating the second was, Tampa Bay knew if it stuck to its structure, it would come out on top.
"We had every reason to hang our head a little bit and come out of our game plan," Cooper said. "But all it did was (tick) them off. If this game were played two months ago, our demeanor on the bench would have been much different than (Friday). Every game we go in, we believe we're going to win."
And after Stamkos' goal, set up by Drouin, the Lightning did.
"I almost thought about giving it back," Stamkos said. "But given the chances we had, I figured I'd better shoot it. It's nice to see it go in."
Contact Joe Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Filppula 8 (Callahan, Paquette), 3:51. Penalties—Myers, Buf (illegal check to head minor), 9:15; Ennis, Buf (roughing), 13:49; Morrow, TB (tripping), 16:02; Myers, Buf (roughing), 20:00.
Second Period—2, Buffalo, McCormick 1 (Kaleta), :50 (sh). Penalties—None.
Third Period—3, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 22 (Drouin, Killorn), 14:42. Penalties—Nesterov, TB (tripping), 11:30; Ennis, Buf (high-sticking), 16:42; Killorn, TB (holding stick), 19:56. Shots on Goal—Buffalo 8-5-8—21. Tampa Bay 8-27-12—47. Power-play opportunities—Buffalo 0 of 3; Tampa Bay 0 of 4. Goalies—Buffalo, Neuvirth 3-11-1 (47 shots-45 saves). Tampa Bay, Bishop 21-6-2 (21-20). A—19,204 (19,204). T—2:26. Referees—Frederick L'Ecuyer, Dan O'Rourke. Linesmen—Brad Lazarowich, Pierre Racicot.