Final OT

Series (Game 3 of 4)

Series tied 1-1

Game 1: Wednesday, November 27th
Game 2: Sunday, February 23rd
Game 3: Sunday, March 9th
Game 4: Friday, March 14th

Sabres 1

(21-32-6, 57 pts)

Lightning 1

(30-23-5, 76 pts)

5:00 PM ET, March 9, 2003

Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida

1 2 3 OT T
BUF 0 1 0 01
TB 0 1 0 01

N. Khabibulin (Lightning - G): Saves: 26, Save Pct.: .963

M. Noronen (Sabres - G): Saves: 27, Save Pct.: .964

V. Lecavalier (Lightning - C): Goals: 1, Assists: 0

Khabibulin 7-0-2 in his last nine starts

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- The Tampa Bay Lightning are relying on Nikolai Khabibulin to lead them into the playoffs for the first time in seven years.

The perennial All-Star goaltender is intent on doing just that.

Khabibulin made 26 saves in a 1-1 tie against the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday night, pulling the Lightning within one point of first-place Washington in the Southeast Division.

Khabibulin is 7-0-2 with a 1.31 goals-against average and a .950 save percentage in his last nine starts. His unbeaten streak tied a franchise record set by Darren Puppa in 1996, the only year Tampa Bay reached the postseason.

"He made some huge saves in the third period,'' Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "He has found his game at a very important time. He's very instrumental in getting us a point tonight.''

Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff will have to wait until at least Wednesday to break the club record for victories. He is tied with Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman at 210.

"We battled to the bitter end,'' Ruff said. "We could have easily won the game. We skated better than they did in the third period, although they might have been just trying to preserve the one point, which was important to them.

"Sometimes you look over and they weren't taking a lot of chances. They were maybe just trying to get it to overtime to get the extra point.''

Khabibulin said there was no letdown after Tampa Bay rallied from a three-goal deficit to beat the streaking Colorado Avalanche 4-3 Friday night.

"It's not like we won the last game and made it to the playoffs,'' Khabibulin said. "We still have a job to do. We need some points and wins.''

Both have been hard to come by for Tampa Bay against Buffalo. The Sabres are 6-0-3 in their last nine meetings and haven't lost in the series since Feb. 2, 2001.

Sabres backup goalie Mika Noronen, coming off his first career shutout Saturday night at Florida, saw his record go to 1-7-2 despite stopping 27 of 28 shots.

Vincent Lecavalier was the only one to beat him, scoring his career-best 26th goal on a power play midway through the second period. Lecavalier was alone on the left side of the net when he took a pass from Brad Richards, skating in from the right corner. The assist gave Richards 62 points, tying his career high.

Lecavalier was in the penalty box when right wing Ales Kotalik tied it less than two minutes later in a scramble in front of Khabibulin.

Miroslav Satan set up Kotalik, who entered the game tied with Detroit left wing Henrik Zetterberg atop the rookie goal-scoring list with 17. Satan extended his point-scoring streak to nine games (4-9-13).

Vaclav Prospal failed to record a point for Tampa Bay for the first time in nine games.

Game notes

Tampa Bay is 8-2-2 since Feb. 15. The only losses were to Buffalo and Detroit. ... Buffalo C Curtis Brown had scored in his last seven games before being shut out Sunday. ... The Lightning have improved their point total five seasons in a row. ... Tampa Bay D Brad Lukowich left the game with a hip injury.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press