(SportsNetwork.com) - The red-hot Tampa Bay Lightning will try to extend their lead atop the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference when they host the sliding Buffalo Sabres in Friday's clash at Amalie Arena.
The Lightning are two points ahead of the Montreal Canadiens for first place in the Atlantic. Tampa also owns a two-point edge over both the Canadiens and Pittsburgh Penguins for the top spot in the East and the Habs and Pens are idle on Friday.
Tampa has surged to the top of the East standings thanks to a 6-1-0 record over its past seven trips to the ice. That included a recent 3-1-0 road trip that ended with consecutive 4-2 victories over Ottawa and the Canadiens.
Although Montreal has played two fewer games than the Lightning at this stage of the season, the Bolts and Habs entered Tuesday's showdown tied for the division lead.
It marked the second of five regular-season meetings between the Atlantic foes, and Tampa extended its winning streak over the Habs to three games. That leaves out the postseason since Montreal swept the Lightning out of the first round last spring.
Tyler Johnson scored twice to lead Tampa over the Habs on Tuesday. Brett Connolly and J.T. Brown also scored, while Ben Bishop, who missed last season's playoff encounter due to injury, made 20 saves for the Lightning.
"I think the biggest thing is that we're playing as a team," said Johnson. "That's the great thing about the guys in this locker room. It doesn't matter who gets the goals or the assists, we're all trying to win games."
Toronto also halted Montreal's winning streak at six games, dealing the Canadiens their first loss since Dec. 18 against Anaheim.
Bishop boasts a 5-0-1 record and 1.94 goals against average in six career games against the Sabres and expects to start again tonight.
Buffalo and the Lightning have split a pair of meetings so far this season, but the Bolts claimed a 5-0 victory when the clubs met last on Dec. 4 in Central Florida. The rout was Tampa's third win in its last four home tilts against the Sabres.
The Sabres enter tonight having lost six straight and 10 of their last 11 games. They have been outscored by a combined score of 27-7 during their current 0-6-0 slide and by a 15-4 margin so far on a four-game road trip.
Buffalo fell to 0-3 on its current swing with Thursday's 5-2 setback at Carolina. The 'Canes scored three times in a span of less than 1 1/2 minutes in the first period on Thursday.
Jiri Tlusty put Carolina up 2-1 on a 5-on-3 marker at the 13:50 mark of the second period. Less than a minute later, Eric Staal was credited with a wrap- around goal, and Victor Rask followed that up with a goal on a deflection 26 seconds later.
Both Sabres goals were scored by Philip Varone, who entered the contest with one goal in 10 NHL games. Chris Stewart assisted on both tallies. Jhonas Enroth allowed all five Hurricanes goals on 31 shots.
"You gotta be alert," said Sabres coach Ted Nolan. "You gotta make sure when you get a chance, you gotta play with some urgency. That didn't happen, and when it doesn't happen, you take bad penalties and the game is over."
Buffalo was outshot 31-20 in the game, marking the 35th time in 42 games this season that the Sabres have had less shots than their opponent.
Drew Stafford missed his second straight game on Thursday, but the forward is expected to be back in the lineup tonight. Stafford was out due to the birth of his first child.
Michal Neuvirth could get the start tonight for Buffalo, although the Sabres backup goaltender has not won since Nov. 15 and has lost each of his past five decisions. However, he does own a 3-1-0 record and a 3.01 GAA in six career games against the Lightning.
If Nolan chooses to go with Enroth it would be his third start in four days. Enroth is 4-2-1 with a 2.53 GAA in seven lifetime starts against Tampa.