The Lightning were vying for some unexpected home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs after winning 5 straight heading into Tuesday’s game. With a win the Bolts would keep pace with the Penguins for the 4th spot in the East. Thomas Vanek and the Buffalo Sabres decided they would not play along.
The Lightning took the lead in the first period on a Ryan Malone goal, his 30th of the year. However before the period’s end Vanek would get the first of his three goals on the night, putting the puck past Dwayne Roloson (who ended the game with 20 saves) on a 5-on-3 power play goal.
Buffalo extended their lead in the second period. Despite the fact that the Lightning outshot the Sabres 8-6, the Buffalo were the ones who added 2 goals to their credit. Vanek added to his tally at the 8 minute mark and Tim Connolly notched his 13th goal of the season putting the Bolts behind 3-1 heading into the final period.
The third period was bookended by goals. A Vincent Lecavalier goal just 17 seconds into the period gave the Bolts some hope. However with 14 seconds remaining in the game Vanek completed the hat trick with a sort-of-empty netter (Roloson was on his way off the ice) providing us with a final score: Sabres 4, Bolts 1.
There are only 2 games left in the 2010-2011 season and the Lightning now sit 3 points back of Pittsburgh (who themselves just a point behind Philly in the Atlantic Division). Tampa Bay will either play in the 4th or 5th spot and will either take on the Penguins or the Fliers in the first round of the playoffs, but they need a little help to get that home-ice advantage.