By ALAN FERGUSON
(AP) -- The Buffalo Sabres have missed out on chances to boost their playoff hopes in each of the past two games, but could have a better opportunity to help themselves in their next one against a struggling opponent.
The visiting Sabres, though, have yet to earn a point against the Tampa Bay Lightning this season and will try to avoid getting swept in the season series for the first time Monday night.
Buffalo (33-29-10) has earned at least one point in four consecutive games and 13 of 15, but dropped two key points last week with back-to-back shootout defeats. The Sabres went seven rounds Saturday before falling 3-2 in Florida.
"Any point you lose right now is a lot. If it was a half a point it would be a lot," coach Lindy Ruff said. "It's disappointing. The points in the shootout are big points."
Currently out of the Eastern Conference's top eight, Ruff's team will try to bounce back by handing the Lightning their sixth loss in seven games and a season high-tying third in a row at home.
A 3-1 loss to St. Louis on Saturday was the fourth for Tampa Bay (32-32-7) in five home games and the Lightning were once again hurt by a poor offensive effort.
Tampa Bay didn't score until 4:11 remained in the third - Brendan Mikkelson's first goal in 116 NHL games - and tallied its lone goal in a 3-1 defeat to Toronto on Thursday with 26 seconds left.
"We're not giving up," forward Teddy Purcell said. "It's easy to get down on ourselves and easy to fold the tent in, but you really show who you are when you've got some adversity."
Those results have the Lightning five points behind the Sabres, but they have won all three games in this season series, including a 3-0 home victory Oct. 22 that featured 21 saves from Mathieu Garon. Tampa Bay won 4-3 in Buffalo three days later to complete a sweep of the home-and-home set and prevailed 2-1 during its return there Feb. 11.
The Sabres are 1-2-1 in their last four road games after going 6-1-1 in their previous eight. They're 10-3-0 in their last 13 visits to Tampa but have lost two of three there.
Buffalo won't have defenseman Tyler Myers as he's completing a three-game suspension, and center Nathan Gerbe's status remains unknown because of a upper-body injury that's kept him out two games.
Garon is among the players who are out for Tampa Bay, which means the Lightning will have to choose between rookie Dustin Tokarski or veteran Dwayne Roloson.
They might lean toward Tokarski as he's 1-2-1 with a 2.79 goals-against average in his first four NHL starts, while Roloson is 0-3-0 with a 4.81 GAA over his last four appearances and 0-7-2 with a 4.05 GAA in nine career matchups with Buffalo.
Whichever goaltender gets the call should keep an eye out for Tyler Ennis. The Sabres winger has four goals and three assists over the past four games, but he has just two assists in his last six matchups with Tampa Bay.
Rookie winger Marcus Foligno has three goals and two assists over his first five NHL games.
Steven Stamkos, the league's leading goal scorer, has recorded a team-best four points against the Sabres this season and needs one more goal to match his career-high 51 from 2009-10.
Stamkos, though, doesn't have a point in three of his last four contests.
Updated March 18, 2012