Buffalo Sabres vs. Tampa Bay Lightning Pick & Prediction JANUARY 20th 2024

The Tampa Bay Lightning have proven all season, and especially this month, that they are strong in defending their home ice.

Now the chore of gaining ground in a tight Eastern Conference playoff race hits the road as the surging Lightning visit the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday, the second meeting in New York between the Atlantic Division foes.

The game will open a critical period for the Lightning, who play three contests away from Tampa, two back home and then another four on the road after the All-Star break.

Their 15-5-3 home mark was fortified by a four-game sweep of a recent homestand, concluding with Thursday’s 7-3 pounding of the Minnesota Wild that saw six players score goals and top defenseman Victor Hedman produce a four-point effort (one goal, three assists).

However, Tampa Bay’s road record sits at 8-12-2.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said the previous road trip — a 1-2-0 stretch at Winnipeg, Minnesota and Boston to start 2024 — was promising despite producing just two points.

“I did feel at the end of (the last) road trip we didn’t get the wins we wanted, but that Boston game (7-3 loss on Jan. 6) — I know the score was similar to tonight — but I didn’t feel we were that far off,” Cooper said Thursday following the second win in two weeks over the Wild.

“But our game is getting more consistent on the good side of things, Hopefully, we can keep that up on what’s going to be a big road trip for us the next couple of days.”

The Sabres’ eventful week is going well.

With wintry weather becoming extreme and forcing the postponement of Sunday’s Steelers-Bills NFL playoff game, Don Granato’s club had its Wednesday home matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks pushed back one day.

“It was a different couple of days with cancellations and not even practicing,” said Granato, whose team is 3-2-0 on its season-long six-game homestand. “It was a bit uneasy from a coaching standpoint of how your guys would come out. I know it’s a challenge when you have a day off and you come to practice the next day after a day off. They’re usually not very good.”

Hampered by injuries to forwards Jeff Skinner and Dylan Cozens, plus defenseman Mattias Samuelsson, Granato turned to center Zemgus Girgensons — a reliable north-south player who plays a physical, straight-line game.

“He plays very direct … and we wanted that directness,” Granato said after his team blanked Chicago 3-0 behind goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen’s second straight shutout. “With each line, you’re missing pieces that are chemistry. I wanted to make sure we didn’t compromise playing the way we needed to play.

“Zemgus on one line, (Kyle) Okposo on another line and you put (Jordan) Greenway in there (and) you have three guys who play very direct and hard.”

Girgensons netted the go-ahead tally in the second period against the Blackhawks for his fourth goal.

Luukkonen’s 19-save showing in the crease Thursday produced his third shutout this season and of his career, along with his second in four days. He stopped all 28 shots by the San Jose Sharks in Monday’s 3-0 win.

During the first meeting between the teams on Oct. 17, Buffalo earned its first victory by beating Tampa Bay 3-2 on Cozens’ overtime winner.

–Field Level Media

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