BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP)—Winning hasn’t come any easier for Ryan Miller since he returned from a broken thumb. It only looks that way.
Miller made 21 saves to win for the fifth time in six starts since coming back, and Jochen Hecht had a goal and an assist to help give the Buffalo Sabres a 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night.
“I think I’m the same,” said Miller, injured in early November. “Nothing really has changed for me. It’s just rewarding to get the win.”
Miller has allowed only nine goals in those six games and seems to have regained his role as the Sabres’ top goalie, even after Martin Biron won a franchise-record 13 consecutive games during Miller’s absence.
“Ryan’s been sharp and got the nod, but we want to keep Marty going, too,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “Right now, we’ll discuss it among the coaching staff.”
Miller, who has started six of the past eight games, made several point-blank saves in the second period and stopped Vaclav Prospal’s breakaway attempt with 8 minutes to go in regulation to help preserve the win.
Jumping out of the penalty box, Prospal picked up a loose puck at center ice and skated in alone on the Buffalo goalie. But Miller gave Prospal nothing to shoot at and made a chest save.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Miller said. “I was happy to get a piece of it to help keep the lead.”
Martin St. Louis scored for the Lightning, who had won two straight.
The Sabres peppered Tampa Bay goalie Sean Burke with 14 shots in the first period and broke through on the power play with 19 seconds left on Hecht’s ninth of the season.
“We came out hard and dominated the game from the first minute on,” Hecht said. “We just kept pushing forward and didn’t take any stupid penalties.”
Buffalo pushed its lead to 2-0 midway through the second with another power-play goal. Drury took Hecht’s pass in the left circle and wristed the puck past Burke and into the top-left corner for his 15th goal.
The Lightning closed the gap to 2-1 just 2 minutes later after St. Louis turned and swatted the puck while it was in mid air past Miller. It was St. Louis’ 15th of the year, and second in three games.
Tallinder capped the scoring with his fifth of the season 2 minutes into the third.
Following an overtime win over the New York Rangers on Tuesday, the Lightning were unable to muster much offense except for the middle frame. Tampa Bay had just nine shots in the first and third periods combined, and has scored just five goals in its last four games.
“Right now we’re not very opportunistic,” St. Louis said. “We fought back but we have to get a few power plays.”
The Lightning went 0-for-4 with the man advantage and have not scored a power-play goal in five games.
“We look so stagnant on our power play,” coach John Tortorella said. “It looks like no one wants the puck.”
Burke, who was making his third start in four games, made 28 saves in losing for the 21st time against the Sabres, his most losses against any team.
“We didn’t find a way to win,” Burke said. “It’s unfortunate because we need these points right now.”
Tampa Bay captain Dave Andreychuk downplayed speculation about the Lightning shopping him around. “I was not put on waivers and I’m not available,” he said. “This is not the first rumor that’s happened about me.” … Drury sustained a groin strain and missed the third period. He is day-to-day. … Buffalo C Daniel Briere had surgery in Montreal to repair his sports hernia. He is expected to be lost for a minimum of eight weeks. … Lightning assistant coach Craig Ramsay, who played in 1,070 games for the Sabres during his career, is scheduled to undergo prostate surgery Friday.