TAMPA, Fla. -- Martin St. Louis knew things were going better for the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday than in recent weeks, at least in terms of the bottom line. But in the third period of an eventual 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres at Tampa Bay Times Forum, he realized the scoreboard totals high above were too good to be true.
"Was the shot clock broken? It made us feel really good the whole time," St. Louis joked about a scoreboard that displayed just seven shots for Buffalo -- it had a season-low 14 -- through for the entire last period. "Seven shots against ... I was like, 'Wow we're doing a great job.'"
Not quite that good, but plenty sufficient against a listless Sabres squad.
Steven Stamkos and St. Louis each had a goal and an assist as the Lightning won for the first time since head coach Guy Boucher was fired on Saturday. The Lightning was aware that new coach Jon Cooper was watching from the press box.
"Marty and I joked before the game we needed to play solid and I thought we did, not just us, obviously the whole group," Stamkos said.
Added interim co-coach Dan Lacroix: "Having a new coach watching probably helped a lot."
With the win, the Lightning (14-18-1) retained the faintest of playoff hopes in the Eastern Conference at six points behind the eighth-place New York Rangers, who beat Philadelphia on Tuesday. The defeat dealt the Sabres a hurtful loss in breaking their three-game win streak. Buffalo (13-16-4) entered the game just three points behind the Rangers.
Lightning goaltender Mathieu Garon was helped by 17 blocked shots from his teammates to win for the fourth time this season, but the first against a team other than Carolina. Ryan Miller had 21 saves.
"Puck possession-wise, we didn't create much and it showed by the shots on the board," said Jordan Leopold, who scored Buffalo's lone goal with 3:08 remaining. "They doubled at least what we had going into the third period. It comes down to urgency and it comes down to desire to try to win a hockey game."
Stamkos gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead with 3:59 left in the first period with his league-leading 23rd goal. Surging after a successful penalty kill, Tampa Bay established a long possession in the Sabre zone before St. Louis swooped from behind the goal and fed Stamkos for a one-timer before Patrick Kaleta could flop in front of him.
St. Louis was credited with his 34th assist. He increased the lead to 2-0 with 11:45 left in the second period when he one-timed a feather pass from Teddy Purcell past Ryan Miller on a 5-on-3 power play. The goal, 33 seconds into the two-man advantage, was St. Louis' eighth of the season and came off assists from Purcell (19) and Stamkos (20).
"It's a chance for us to separate ourselves a little bit," St. Louis said of the two-man advantage. "I think when you don't score on five on three, a lot of time it feels like it comes back and haunts you a little bit. I thought our power play moved the puck really well today, probably could have scored more on the power play, but we did keep the momentum."
Buffalo coach Ron Rolston agreed.
"There wasn't a lot of urgency in anything tonight," he said.
Though Tampa Bay exerted most of the pressure, Buffalo had two prime chances to beat Garon in the period. But he sprawled to smother a Jason Pominville attempt at the goal mouth with eight minutes left and Thomas Vanek -- Buffalo's leading goal scorer with 16 -- wasted a breakaway with 1:14 remaining when he fell attempting to deke Garon.
Jordon Leopold scored his second goal of the season for Buffalo with 3:08 remaining.
NOTES: Cooper is the Lightning's eighth head coach and will take over on Friday. Lacroix, Marty Raymond and Steve Thomas ran the team on Tuesday night. Cooper, 45, led then-Lightning affiliate Norfolk to the American Hockey League title last season, as the club set a North American professional hockey record with 28 straight wins at one point. He was in charge of Tampa Bay's Syracuse AHL affiliate before being promoted. ... St. Louis has recorded points in 12 of the last 14 games and is tied for third in the NHL (42). Stamkos is second (43). ... The Sabres had killed 17 straight penalties against the Lightning, dating to Feb. 8, 2011, before St. Louis' power play goal in the second period. ... Buffalo's Cody Hodgson entered with 25 points (nine goals) in his previous 26 games. ... Buffalo failed to score a power play goal for the first time in five games. ... Tampa Bay goalie Anders Lindback (ankle), and forwards Benoit Pouliot (shoulder), Vincent Lecavalier (foot) and Ryan Malone (shoulder) are on injured reserve. ... Former Lightning assistant coach Wayne Fleming, 62, died of brain cancer on Monday in Calgary.