TAMPA, Fla. -- It wasn't the one that got away, and that's all that mattered to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday at Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Ondrej Palat's eventual game-winning goal with four minutes left gave the Lightning a 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres and bailed out a team that controlled play throughout but needed two goals in the final six minutes to prevail.
Palat began the decisive sequence with a pass to the net and collected the puck after a return pass from Tyler Johnson (goal, assist) glanced off his skate and onto his stick. He then fired in his third goal of the season as the Sabres flailed in front of goaltender Ryan Miller.
"I just put it in," Palat said.
The succinct assessment typified the Lightning reaction to a comeback win that capped a 5-2-0 homestand that would be the team's longest of the season.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper didn't see the late effort as surviving a letdown as much as his team "finally got two past Miller at an opportunistic time," but his captain said pressure was increasing not to temper the points and momentum of a 6-5 overtime win over Stanley Cup champion Chicago on Thursday.
"You have letdowns," said Martin St. Louis, whose sixth goal of the season tied the game at 2 with 5:51 left. "It's a frustrating game. We had shots. We had a lot of looks. It's frustrating when the goaltender steps up. We fought through it."
St. Louis' score off a cross-slot pass from Steven Stamkos, his first since scoring the overtime winner against the Blackhawks, sparked a furious rush that Miller couldn't contain and that ruined a feisty bid to swipe points for the Sabres, who have lost four of six road games.
Thomas Vanek gave Buffalo an unlikely 2-1 lead with 7:14 left, popping in his fourth goal of the season after a superb rush to the net and dish left from Marcus Foligno. The assist, coming off a breakout started by rookie Zemgus Girgensons, was Foligno's third.
In the opening minutes, the Lightning (7-3-0) didn't seem to suffer any letdown, but became increasingly bogged down by the rebuilding Sabres (2-10-1). Going 1-for-5 on the power play after an encouraging start didn't help.
Center Tyler Johnson gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead with 7:12 left in the first period with Tampa Bay's third goal in its last five power plays over two games. Johnson swooped in front to collect a rebound off Miller that defenseman Tyler Myers could not clear and snapped in his third goal of the season. Valterri Filppula (5) and Matt Carle (6), who rocketed the puck onto Miller from near the blue line, collected assists.
Buffalo's Steve Ott had Buffalo's best chance in the first period on a breakaway up the middle but defenseman Radko Gudas was able to limit the center to nothing more than a backhanded flip on goaltender Ben Bishop. Ott also had a five-on-three short-handed breakaway chance in the second period when he popped out of the penalty box and skated onto a Myers clearance, but the Lightning's Ryan Malone was able to prevent him from attempting a shot.
A Buffalo team with four teenaged rookies on the roster was able to stay close by killing four consecutive power plays and tied the game at 1 on Brian Flynn's second goal of the season with 7:02 left in a physical second period. With Bishop sprawling in front of the goal, Flynn nabbed a Cody McCormick cross-crease pass and shot into an open net. The assist was McCormick's second. Ville Leino notched his first.
"We took too many penalties," Vanek said. "Miller did a great job to keep us in it. We got the lead and then they just kept coming. Five-on-five I thought we played well. It doesn't take many mistakes for those guys to bury one."
NOTES: Leino missed 11 consecutive games after cracking a rib in the first 13 minutes of Buffalo's season-opener. ... Two of Johnson's first three goals this season came against Buffalo. ... St. Louis has 13 points (six goals, seven assists) over his past nine games. ... Stamkos went 12-for-19 on faceoffs. .. Tampa Bay entered Saturday with more goals (25) in six home games than Buffalo had scored (18) in 12 total contests this season. ... The Sabres have been outscored 16-1 in first periods this season. The Lightning is outscoring opponents, 8-2, in the first. ... Tampa Bay's 36 shots was a season high. ... Cooper added little-used D Keith Aulie and D Mark Barberio to his lineup on Saturday to keep his depth players involved. Barberio had not played since regular-season opener Oct. 3, Aulie since Oct. 8. ... Lightning D Andrej Sustr and LW P.C. Labrie were scratched. ... Lightning D Victor Hedman (foot) did not practice Friday but played Saturday. ... G Anders Lindback is scheduled to start for the Lightning when it plays its first of 12 consecutive-day games this season on Sunday at Florida.