- Associated Press - Thursday, November 17, 2016

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - The Tampa Bay Lightning’s offense looks fine so far minus captain Steven Stamkos.

A few acrobatic saves by goalie Ben Bishop didn’t hurt either.

Nikita Kucherov scored to increase his team-leading point total to 22, and Alex Killorn snapped a 10-game goal drought in leading a the Lightning to a 4-1 victory over the injury-depleted and scoring challenged Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night.

Tampa Bay won its third straight, and improved to 6-2-1 in its past nine in its first game since Stamkos was sidelined by a torn ligament in his right knee.

“Obviously, we’re going to miss him. He’s a great leader. It’s just one of those things where you’ve got to step up,” said Bishop, who stopped 32 shots. “You’ve got to go more as a team effort because you can’t rely on your big dog to come through. … But we’ve got a lot of big dogs here.”

The Lightning were certainly barking with a spread-out attack that also included goals from Nikita Nesterov and Brayden Point, while Valtteri Filppula set up two goals with no-look passes.

It’s a necessary approach for a team that will be missing its two-time NHL scoring champion, who is expected to be sidelined for four months after having surgery earlier in the day.

“We know the drill and it’s going to be up to certain guys to kind of fill it up,” said Killorn, who also had an assist. “That’s 40 goals a year, and we’ve got to kind of make up for it.”

It’s a different story for Buffalo, which continues to struggle to overcome its growing number of injuries.

The Sabres are winless in their past six (0-4-2), a stretch in which they’ve managed just six goals.

“It must be a joke right now: If you score two goals against the Buffalo Sabres you’re going to win the game,” forward Evander Kane said. “We’ve got to end that.”

Buffalo is playing without two top-line forwards, Ryan O’Reilly (mid-section) and Jack Eichel (left ankle), and two regular defensemen, Zach Bogosian (knee) and Dmitry Kulikov (lower back).

Except for defenseman Cody Franson scoring on the power play, the Sabres couldn’t buy a goal against Bishop.

The most telling moment came a little over three minutes into the second period, when Bishop played the puck behind his own net and inexplicably sent a pass through the middle. The puck landed directly on the stick of Sabres forward Kyle Okposo, who snapped a shot at the wide-open net.

Bishop, however, scrambled back and dived across the crease to glove the shot.

“It’s a 1-0 game at that point and I just though he was completely out of it and wanted to make sure I settled it for a half second and shot it,” Okposo said, before letting out a sigh. “He made a heck of a save.”

Phew, said Bishop.

“I dove and I felt it hit my glove and I was kind of like, ‘Are you kidding me?’” Bishop said. “Sometimes it’s good to be a little lucky, I guess.”

He was fortunate again in the second period when defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen slipped a shot through his legs only to have the puck dribble wide of the left post. Bishop did make several big stops on forward Sam Reinhart parked in front.

Kucherov’s goal with 18 seconds remaining in the second period proved to be a backbreaker for Buffalo. It allowed the Lightning to reclaim a two-goal lead after Franson had cut the margin seven minutes earlier.

Killorn pounced on a turnover in Buffalo’s zone and fed Kucherov, who drove to left circle. Kucherov then snapped a shot that beat goalie Robin Lehner, who was screened by Tampa Bay forward Tyler Johnson.

NOTES: Lightning LW Jonathan Drouin returned after missing seven games with an upper body injury. … The Sabres’ Dan Bylsma became the NHL’s 66th coach to reach 500 games. … Franson became Buffalo’s first defenseman to score a goal this season. … D Anton Stralman (upper body) missed his third straight game and is not expected to miss the final two games of Lighting’s five-game road trip.

UP NEXT

Lightning: At Philadelphia on Saturday.

Sabres: Host Pittsburgh on Saturday night.

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