BUFFALO, N.Y. — Steven Stamkos gave one away on a wacky goal Saturday but atoned for it in dramatic fashion, helping Tampa Bay knock off Buffalo 4-3 in overtime.
Stamkos scored his second goal of the game 1:53 into overtime and added an assist to extend Tampa Bay’s run of consecutive games with a point to 11 (7-0-4) while reducing the Lightning’s magic number to clinch a playoff spot to six points after Washington lost to Boston earlier in the day.
Tampa Bay also kept pace with Montreal for the second spot in the Atlantic Division to determine who would hold home ice in their likely opening round postseason match up. The Lightning are two points behind the Canadiens with two games in hand, one of which will be made up Sunday in Detroit before the Tampa Bay hosts Montreal on Tuesday.
Alex Killorn and Ryan Callahan also scored for Tampa Bay while Ben Bishop finished with 25 saves. Valtteri Filppula extended his scoring streak to 11 games with an assist on the overtime winner, a slap shot from Stamkos from the right circle for Tampa Bay’s second power play goal of the game.
Stamkos’ game winner came after his back pass while on a delayed penalty call against Buffalo skipped past teammate Mike Kostka and banked off the boards into the vacated net at the other end of the ice that gave the Sabres a 3-2 lead at 8:14 of the third. Callahan would get the goal back during a 5-on-3 power play that allowed Stamkos to get the overtime winner.
“There is not much you can do, you just have to hope that it hits a snow bank or something . . . and of course it takes a perfect bounce, I probably couldn’t to that in another 50 tries if I had the chance,’’ Stamkos said. “We were fortunate to get the chance to get it back on the five-on-three and we did.’’
The pair of late power play goals also allowed Tampa Bay to avoid another slow start against an team well below them in the standings as Buffalo jumped out to a 2-0 lead on late first period goals by Matt D’Agostino and Cody Hodgson. Tampa Bay started to skate after falling behind to create a forecheck and responded with Killorn’s first goal since March 6 while J.T. Brown got in quick on the forecheck to take the puck away from Christian Ehrhoff and feed Stamkos coming down the slot to tie the game with 13.6 seconds left in the first period.
“We were putting pucks in areas where we couldn’t get them, one pass was beating three of our forwards, they came at us with speed and we didn’t have gaps,’’ Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “We weren’t very good at managing the puck on our forecheck, then the game turned when we did.’’
Tampa Bay started to play stronger in the third period, created zone time in the Buffalo end and held a 9-1 shot advantage in the final period and looked to take command of the game when Ryan Malone drew a hooking call on Cory Conacher. With the extra attacker on the ice during the delayed call, that’s when Stamkos put a bit too much zip on his pass that ended up in his own net, with the goal credited to Conacher, who was the last Buffalo player to touch the puck.
But Tampa Bay did not get down on itself and came back with Callahan’s tap-in of a Teddy Purcell pass that tied the game up at 10:07 while on a two-man advantage.
“That’s a helpless feeling (on the empty net goal), but you know that you have to be ready to go back out there and get it back,’’ Callahan said. “That was some bad luck, but our power play came right back and tied it up.’’
Buffalo looked primed to take the lead when Johan Larsson was alone at the side of the net to whack in a cross-ice pass from the left point, but Eric Brewer got his stick in the way to knock the puck out of play and save a goal with Bishop down on the ice that allowed the game to get to overtime.
“There was a guy on the other side, I just kind of put my stick there and hope it works out,’’ Brewer said. “It’s a bit of a panic (play). There are things we know we have to shore up, but we are finding ways to get points right now and that’s the important thing.’’