TAMPA, FLORIDA (TICKER) —The Buffalo Sabres saw the end of several dry spells.
Maxim Afinogenov and defenseman Alexei Zhitnik and ended lengthy scoring droughts and Martin Biron made 30 saves as the Sabres snapped a six-game road losing streak with a 4-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Afinogenov opened the scoring at 3:24 with his first goal of the season.
Adam Mair forced Vaclav Prospal to turn over the puck in his own zone and Afinogenov fired it from the top of the slot into the top right corner of the net for his first point in 12 games. He was sidelined early this season due to a concussion.
“They made a mistake, and we’ve done that in the past - give up the big turnover - and it usually turns into a goal,” Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. “I look down and you could see (Lightning coach John Tortorella) was just livid. It was the start they wanted. It’s tough when you get behind. Road teams can frustrate the (heck) out of home teams.”
Zhitnik added his second just over six minutes later. Derided by Ruff for his lack of offense, the Russian defenseman came down the right side and roofed a wrist shot just under the crossbar for his first goal since January 11.
“I tried to get the puck to the net,” Zhitnik said. “I had a pretty good angle. It looked to me like the short side was wide open.”
Biron halted a personal three-game road skid and won for the second time in three starts since a four-game losing streak.
“We played the system we wanted to play to a `T,’” Biron said. “I saw guys making desperate efforts. That was a big win.”
Brad Richards put the only shot by Biron, tallying on the power play 30 seconds into the third period. His shot from the right circle went through the goalie’s pads.
Biron and Tampa Bay goalie John Grahame were involved in a tussle at the end of a scoreless second period. Buffalo’s Vaclav Varada bumped into Grahame behind the net and swiped at the goaltender as he passed. Grahame tackled the right wing in front of the net.
“He hit me pretty good in the corner and I faked like I was going to hit him,” Grahame said. “I guess he came back and I thought he was going to come after me, so I hit him first.”
All 12 players on the ice, including Biron, jumped into the fray.
“I wasn’t going over there with the intention to hurt somebody,” Biron said. “I don’t think I could, unless I would have kept my stick and kept swinging over there. I went in just to grab Grahame and pull him out of there. That’s usually what you want to do. I got in the middle of the pack and I couldn’t move anyone around. I was dead tired after that. Thankfully, it was at the end of the period and I could rest.”
When order was restored, the Sabres received an extra two-minute penalty, but Lightning defenseman Brad Lukowich was ejected for being the third man in.
“It was a gutless play,” Lukowich said of Varada. “He punches a goalie in the head and then goes after him in crease.”
“I’ve never heard of the name,” Varada said when told of Lukowich’s statement. “Gutless? He can say anything he wants. Just show me on the ice.”
Miroslav Satan scored his 21st goal on the power play in the third period and Varada put in an empty-netter with 46 seconds left for the Sabres, who won away from home for the first time since a 1-0 triumph at Phoenix on January 18.
Buffalo has won just three of its last 13 games overall but is unbeaten in the last eight meetings with the Lightning (6-0-2). The Sabres are 14-4-2 all-time in Tampa Bay.
“It was nice to get the win,” said Buffalo center Chris Gratton, a former Lightning. “They have a heck of a team. Marty played extremely well. He made some key saves at key times. It was very spirited, a playoff-style game, a good hitting matchup.”
Grahame turned aside 21 shots, but Tampa Bay squandered a chance to move past Washington into first place in the Southeast Division. The Lightning had a five-game unbeaten streak (3-0-2-0) stopped.
“It seemed like they wanted the game more than us,” Tampa Bay captain Dave Andreychuk said. “But if you can’t get excited for a game of this magnitude … This proves there are no easy teams in this league.”