A hat-trick by Thomas Vanek would prove to be the difference as the Buffalo Sabres ended the Tampa Bay Lightning‘s hopes for a South East division title with a 4-2 victory.
The Sabres started the game off as planned as they applied tremendous pressure on the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning. The chances piled up early and none better than when Stafford picked up a juicy rebound with a wide open net but failed to shoot the puck on target as he pulled to his backhand.
The Sabres continued to dominate the start of this game until a shot from Lightning defenseman Mike Lundin was deflected into the net by Ryan Malone to give Tampa Bay the lead 6 minutes into the contest.
The Sabres were not phased by any means as they continued to control the tempo of the game and were rewarded as Dana Tyrell took a questionable penalty 200 feet from his own net giving the Sabres their 1st powerplay opportunity of the game.
Things quickly went from bad to worse for the Lightning as 13 seconds into the powerplay, Lundin cleared the puck over the glass and out of play giving the Sabres a 1:47 5 on 3 and a golden opportunity to tie the hockey game.
It took the Sabres a while however as time expired on the first penalty Jason Pominville and Tim Connolly worked a give and go and the end result was a Pominville Slap shot being redirected by Thomas Vanek to tie the hockey game at one.
As the pace of the second period started to pick up, the Sabres took advantage of a defensive miscue as Vanek was left all alone in front of the net and made no mistake taking the Pominville pass and making a gorgeous move to his backhand for his second of the game, and more importantly giving the Sabres their first lead of the game.
Then as a penalty to Butler expired, a Lightning defenseman got caught in the Buffalo zone giving the Sabres a 3-on-2 which ended with a Tim Connolly wrist shot beating Roloson high glove side to give the home side a 3-1 lead.
The Sabres, who are nitorious for having troubles with two goal leads, did not help their case when a careless give away in their own zone led to a Vincent Lecavalier goal cutting the Sabres lead down to just one.
The Sabres started to fall back in the ladder stages of the 3rd period as they attempted to protect their slim lead against the constant pressure of the Tampa Bay Lightning. With some help from rookie goaltender Jhonas Enroth (who made 23 saves on the night) the Sabres were able to hold off the surging Lightning and Vanek sealed the victory when he blasted the puck into the empty net with 14 seconds left in the game to earn his 6th career hat-trick and the two points for Buffalo.
The Sabres next game is on Friday against the Philadelphia Flyers.