TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Lightning coach Guy Boucher is pleased with his team's improving play in close games.
Steven Stamkos scored his 25th goal of the season, Martin St. Louis had an empty-net goal and two assists and Tampa Bay beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-1 on Saturday night.
``If you want to win championships, those are the games that you've got to go get,' Boucher said. ``You've got to know how to do it.'
Tampa Bay also got a goal from Simon Gagne. Mike Smith stopped 22 shots, helping the Lightning win for just the second time in their last 11 homes games against Buffalo.
``What can I say? These guys are just battling every night,' Smith said.
Tampa Bay is 5-2-1 in its last eight games, including four one-goal wins.
``I think we're taking pride the last couple weeks in our defensive play,' Stamkos said.
Jason Pominville had a goal and Ryan Miller made 34 saves for the Sabres. Miller was pulled after allowing four goals on 10 shots in the first period of a 6-2 loss Friday night at Florida.
``It's disappointing,' Sabres right wing Mike Grier said of the consecutive losses. ``We were playing fairly well coming in, but we dug ourselves a hole.'
Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier failed to score on a penalty shot with 5:45 remaining in the third.
Gagne put the Lightning up 1-0 when he lifted a low-slot backhander over Miller during a power play with 7:44 left in the second. Miller lost for the fourth time in 20 career decisions against Tampa Bay.
Stamkos made it 2-0 with 1:50 left in the second, scoring from the slot off a pass from St. Louis, who had received a pass through the slot from Ryan Malone.
Pominville cut it to 2-1 when he scored an in-close goal with 47.7 seconds to go in the second. The right wing has 13 goals and 29 points in 21 games against the Lightning.
``I just didn't think we won enough battles,' Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said.
Tampa Bay went up 3-1 on St. Louis' goal with 1.6 seconds to play. Stamkos assisted on the goal for his 21st assist this season.
Miller stopped Dana Tyrell's shot during a short-handed breakaway 4 minutes into second. The goalie also stopped another short-handed chance by Tyrell early in the third.
Tampa Bay outshot Buffalo 18-5, including five shots by Stamkos, during the second.
``The way we're winning is great,' Lightning center Nate Thompson said. ``We're playing from the start to the end. These tight games, we're getting contributions from everyone.'
NOTES: Buffalo C Tim Connolly broke his nose and went to the locker room after a check into the boards by Thompson 90 seconds into the game. Connolly returned for the start of the second period. ``Badly fractured,' Ruff said. ... Gagne has 13 goals and 30 points in 31 games against Buffalo. ... Sabres D Shaone Morrisonn (concussion) has resumed practicing with the team. He has missed six straight games.
The Associated Press News Service
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