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Game 63 recap: Not for lack of effort, Bolts come up short against Buffalo

The Lightning begin the post-Marty St. Louis era with a loss to the last place Buffalo Sabres, narrowly avoiding a shutout, in spite of a strong, consistently aggressive effort at the Tampa Bay Times Forum Thursday night.

The return of forward Steven Stamkos was one of very few bright spots in Tampa Bay's 3-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres Thursday night in Tampa.
The return of forward Steven Stamkos was one of very few bright spots in Tampa Bay's 3-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres Thursday night in Tampa.
Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports Images

The Buffalo Sabres beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum Thursday night.

The first game of the "This is Steven Steven Stamkos's Lightning" era was an exercise in good news/bad news.

First, the good news (there isn't much): Steven Stamkos is back from the broken leg he suffered in November and has a shiny white "C" for "Captain" on his sweater, which was announced to the public when he came on the ice to begin the game (the "C" was absent during pre-game warm-ups).

"It's an honor. We have a great leadership core and to be honored like that, it's really special." - Stamkos

And the Lightning worked about as hard as you can without coming away with a victory. They outshot Buffalo all night long, finishing with a 44-21 edge in that category.

Now the bad news: This is a results-oriented league and the result was a loss. Yes, Buffalo goalie Jhonas Enroth was outstanding and when a goalie is having a great night he can beat anybody. Still, losing to the worst team in the conference at home when your once-commanding grip on one of the top seeds in the playoffs has almost completely evaporated is just about the worst thing that can happen. They managed to avoid being shut out by Enroth but moral victories have a value of exactly zero points in the standings.

"I don't think we've deserved to win some of the games we have played; we weren't playing very well. But I thought we played well tonight. Sometimes you play pretty well and maybe deserve a different fate but if you continue to play well, you'll come out of the rut." - Lightning head coach Jon Cooper

Back to the matters of points and standings, the Lightning's lead over the Detroit Red Wings for fourth place in the Atlantic Division is currently only four points. This may not have been a catastrophic loss but it's close. When teams miss the postseason by a small margin, it's games like this that sting when you look back.

Buffalo scored once in each period against Anders Lindback, who played well and was not exactly the beneficiary of great defense. At 15:56 of the first period, an ill-advised pass by Lightning defender Mark Barberio gave Tyler Myers easy access to an unassisted goal.

At 9:25 of the second, the lead doubled with Marcus Foligno scoring what would be the game winner on assists from Cody Hodgson and Myers.

They chocked up some insurance at 13:44 of the third on a goal by Hodgson assisted by Foligno.

The Lightning finally solved Enroth, at 17:31 of the third with Tyler Johnson potting a shorthanded goal on an assist from Victor Hedman.

The Lightning will try to snap their current two-game losing streak on Saturday when they host the division-leading Boston Bruins.

Game notes:

  • Recently acquired Ryan Callahan posted 16:33 on the ice and 21 shifts and a -1 while recording four shots, one missed shot, four hits, and won two of two faceoffs
  • This was the first of a six-game homestand, following the recently completed 1-3-0 road trip.
  • The Lightning haven't won consecutive games since January 25 and are 3-8-0 since that three-game streak ended.
  • Making a much-appreciated if not exactly triumphant return, Steven Stamkos posted 21:03 ice time and 23 shifts and a -1 while recording five shots (one blocked), three missed shots, two hits, and won 17 of 24 faceoffs (71%) in his first game since breaking his leg on November 11.
  • The Lightning honored Larry Timmer as the 28th Lightning Community Hero of the year. Timmer, who received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program, will donate the money to Special Olympics. Timmer retired from the Tampa Police Department and now volunteers roughly 30-40 hours each week organizing events and assisting others without ever receiving compensation for his help. He has a passion for volunteering and helping those who can't help themselves. Timmer is heavily involved with Special Olympics Florida and helps the athletes directly. He helps build confidence with the athletes he deals with and without his help, many of the Special Olympians wouldn't be able to compete in athletic events. In 1999, Timmer was assigned as the department's Law Enforcement Torch Run Coordinator. On his off days, he would organize events in the city to help raise money and awareness for Special Olympics Florida. In 2001, he became the Torch Run Regional Director, helping law enforcement agencies located in Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Polk counties to organize events in their area to raise awareness for Special Olympics Florida.