BUFFALO, N.Y. – The Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t need Steven Stamkos or Martin St. Louis when they had Mike Smith.
With both of the Lightning’s offensive stars kept off the scoresheet for the first time in eight games, Smith came through with 29 saves to lift Tampa Bay to a 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night.
Smith, in his first start since Nov. 12, helped the Lightning (11-7-2) to their third straight victory, tying a season high. He sparkled in the third period by turning aside all 12 shots he faced.
“It’s been a long time coming since I’ve let just one goal in,” said Smith, who had allowed 10 goals combined in his last two starts. “I handled the puck as well as I’ve handled it all year, but it’s not about me. Our team did such a great job in front of me.”
The game was a far cry from Tampa Bay’s last outing, a back-and-forth 8-7 win over Philadelphia on Thursday night in the highest scoring game in the NHL in almost three years. After surrendering a goal on Buffalo’s first shot, Smith and the Lightning shut things down against a Sabres team that came in having won five of its last seven.
“We wanted to make sure we stayed structured,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. “We played a very smart defensive game, especially after the game we played in Philly. We wanted to make sure we had better awareness defensively, and stick to the plan the whole game.”
Teddy Purcell and Adam Hall scored for the Lightning, and Stamkos, who entered as the NHL leader in both goals and points, was held without a point for only the third time this season.
Thomas Vanek scored for the Sabres (8-11-3), who were without starting goalie Ryan Miller.
Miller didn’t dress after being scratched late because of groin tenderness and soreness. He missed five straight games earlier this month with hip soreness.
Patrick Lalime replaced Miller and made 20 saves in his first start since Nov. 5 against Montreal.
Buffalo has alternated wins and losses over its last four games.
“We didn’t do enough,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “We tried to pay attention when (St. Louis and Stamkos) were out there. Once they got the lead they played a little different game, which took Stamkos and St. Louis out of it a little bit.”
Vanek opened the scoring with his eighth of the season just under 5 minutes into the game, letting go a slap shot from the top of the right circle that eluded Smith.
Purcell tied it with 1:50 left in the opening period, re-directing in the slot Randy Jones’ pass from the lower-left circle.
Tampa Bay took the lead with 8:34 left in the second on Hall’s fourth of the season. He intercepted Lalime’s clearing attempt in the lower portion of the right circle, and lifted a backhander in off his own rebound after Lalime made the initial save.
“I made a mistake and it cost us the game,” Lalime said. “I made the wrong play there, tried to draw the guy in and made the wrong pass. I think it was just a bad pass. It always seems when I make a mistake, we pay for it somehow. I just can’t make those.”
Notes: Sabres captain Craig Rivet played in his 900th career NHL game. … C Blair Jones and D Mike Vernace were both in the lineup for the Lightning after being recalled from Norfolk of the AHL. D Matt Smaby was placed on IR to make room on the roster. … Tampa Bay C Mattias Ritola served the second of a two-game suspension for a hit from behind in Wednesday’s game against the New York Islanders. … Vanek extended his points streak to a career-high seven games. He has 13 goals in 11 career games against the Lightning. … G Jhonas Enroth was recalled from Portland of the AHL and backed-up Lalime. … Tampa Bay improved to 4-13-4 against Buffalo since 2005-06.