TAMPA — Even good efforts result in bad losses.
With Tampa Bay welcomng back Steven Stamkos, who emerged as the last player from the tunnel during pregame introductions to a wild ovation as he was named the 10th captain in franchise history after missing four months with a broken leg, and the debut of Ryan Callahan, the Lightning still stumbled into a 3-1 loss despite a strong effort in front of an announced sell out crowd of 19,204 at The Forum.
Jhonas Enroth made 43 saves to steal the a victory for the Sabres, which had fewer shot attempts (38) than the Lightning had shots on goal (44).
Marcus Foligno, Cody Hodgson and Tyler Myers each had a goal and an assist for the Sabres, which picked up just their 10th regulation victory on the season.
Tyler Johnson scored his third shorthanded goal of the season late in the third to spoil the shutout while Anders Lindback, making his first start in goal since Jan. 13, finished with 18 saves to take the loss.
The loss was the eighth in the past 11 games for Tampa Bay, which still holds a wild card playoff spot four points ahead of Detroit and Columbus currently tied for ninth place in the Eastern Conference, despite the recent slide with 19 games remaining.
“This is the biggest rut we have been in this year, obviously we have hit a rut,'' Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “I liked the way we played. Clearly you don't like the result and sometimes you play well and deserve a little bit of a different fate, but if you continue to play well you will come out of the rut. You don't just come out of ruts not playing well and get lucky, you get out of ruts by playing like we did tonight and then continue to play like that and eventually the results will turn.
“Unfortunately the clock is ticking down on the season here and we can't let these go. We have to get points, and the urgency of timing has to be better. We need to be desperate.''
After all the drama of the previous day in which long time icon and team captain Marty St. Louis forced his way out of town with a trade request, the night got off to a dramatic start with the introduction of Stamkos as the new captain moments before the opening faceoff.
That created an energy boost in the building as a new era in Lightning history kicked off with the last remaining piece of the 2004 Stanley Cup championship team, St. Louis, no longer on the roster. But Tampa Bay failed to feed off the momentum and capitalize on the early chances despite peppering Enroth all night long.
“I thought we definitely outplayed them tonight,'' said Stamkos, who had five shots on goal in 21:03 of ice time, “It's not the result that we wanted but when you are not playing as well as a team, and then you find a way to play better and generate scoring chances, then their goalie plays well, you have to build on it. It's disappointing not to get points in the game but I thought this was a building block for how we've been playing lately.''
Buffalo scored three consecutive goals, one in each of the three period before Johnson would pull Tampa Bay to within a goal with 2:29 left in the third period on his third shorthanded goal of the season, tied for second in the league.
Any any loss at this time of year, no matter how the result is formed, is costly, even with a renewed attitude following the dramatics in the previous two days.
“It's definitely tough, these games are huge if you look at the standings and how important these points are,'' said Callahan, who logged 16:33 of ice time in his debut and finished with four shots on goal and four hits. “I felt like we had enough chances to put more behind (Enroth) tonight and win the game. But some turnovers and not getting enough pucks deep cost us in the end.''