BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Tage Thompson and the Buffalo Sabres bounced back nicely from a pair of tough losses.
Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper made his own statement with the Lightning.
Rookie Jack Quinn scored during Buffalo’s three-goal second period, and the Sabres beat slumping Tampa Bay 5-3 on Saturday in a chippy Atlantic Division matchup.
Thompson, Jeff Skinner, Tyson Jost and Vinnie Hinostroza also scored for Buffalo (32-25-4), which matched its win total from last year. Eric Comrie stopped 33 shots.
The Sabres were coming off consecutive losses to Columbus and Boston by a combined 12-4 score. They were routed by the NHL-leading Bruins 7-1 on Thursday night.
“We needed a big response after our last game,” said Thompson, who opened the scoring with his team-leading 42nd goal and added an assist. “I think we were on our heels a little bit last game and I think tonight coming in we just wanted to make sure that no matter what happened, whether they get a push or not, we’re stepping on the gas the whole time.”
The Lightning dropped to 0-3-1 in their past four to mark the team’s longest skid since losing four straight a year ago. Tampa Bay, coming off a 5-4 overtime loss to Pittsburgh on Thursday, has been outscored by a combined margin of 21-11 in its past four.
With Tampa Bay trailing 4-1 through two periods, Cooper elected to send a message in a bid to spark his slumping team. He benched his top line of Brayden Point, captain Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov through the third period.
“As coaches you’ve got to put your team in the best position to win, and 99.9 percent of the time those guys give us the best chance. ... Just felt in the third period they weren’t giving us the best chance to win,” Cooper said.
“If you’re not giving to the standard that this franchise has set the standard bar for me in the league for the last how many years, you can’t go out there,” Cooper added.
While the Lightning didn’t make any of the top-line players available, forward Pat Maroon said Cooper’s message was received loud and clear.
“They’re mad about it, and they’ll man up and own up,” Maroon said. “Obviously, a couple of leaders got sat and we don’t look at them any differently. I think they know and, you know, they’ll nip it in the bud next game.”
Maroon stressed the Lightning’s troubles are team-wide.
“Just because those three guys sat doesn’t mean any of us were any better,” Maroon said. “It’s the little things. It’s just an easy fix and we’re just shooting ourselves in the foot once again. And that’s not good.”
Alex Killorn scored twice for the Lightning, and Brian Elliott stopped 29 shots. Point had the other goal.
Hinostroza snapped a 1-1 tie 5:35 into the second after he was set up by Casey Mittelstadt, who outmuscled Killorn for the puck behind the Lightning net. Jost converted a 3-on-2 break for a short-handed goal at 12:30, and Quinn scored from the right circle with 14 seconds left.
What concerned Cooper was how the Lightning lost numerous puck battles against the Sabres.
“That’s been a problem of ours. We’re playing the game slow and we’ve done it now for probably a week and a half, two weeks,” Cooper said. “Now it’s catching up on us in the wins-losses, but if we bring the passion and want and will that we brought in the third period tonight, this whatever you call it, this mini-slump here is not going to last too long.”
Lightning: Complete two-game road swing at the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday.
Sabres: Host the Edmonton Oilers on Monday.
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