The Florida Panthers visit the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagra Center in Buffalo, NY. It's the second day in which the Sabres will be participating in a daytime matinee, having played the Montreal Canadiens on the road yesterday. Florida will is coming off their second victory of the season, on home ice against the Winnipeg Jets, and are opening a four game road trip. Afterward, they will visit the Jets, the Philadelphia Flyers, and the Washington Capitals. Buffalo will go on to visit the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday before returning home on Thursday for a rematch with the Habs.
The last time Florida met Buffalo was on March 17th of last season. Florida won their fourth in a row on their way to their first playoff appearance in a dozen years. More from NHL.COM:
Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, back in the lineup after missing 23 games, scored in the seventh round of the shootout and Jose Theodore followed by stopping Drew Stafford's wrist shot as the Florida Panthers beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 at the BankAtlantic on Saturday night.
The victory completed a 4-0 homestand for the Panthers and gave them their first four-game winning streak since March 2008.
"That's unbelievable," veteran center John Madden said. "You play a lot of games and you just think you can get something. But that's good on us. A lot of guys in here are playing a little banged up, but they battled through it. It's fun to be invested in this dressing room."
The Panthers have won five in a row at home overall, tying a franchise record last accomplished in 2010.
More important is that the Panthers increased their lead in the Southeast Division to five points over Washington and to seven points over Winnipeg, with each team having 11 games remaining.
After the game, Panthers coach Kevin Dineen talked about Kulikov's shootout performance:
He was a little deep in the batting order but sometimes you're looking for a little swagger and Kuli is a cool cat, not a whole lot ruffles him. He's had a long stretch off and we wanted to get him and (Kris) Versteeg on the ice early. They started the game and a pretty good way to finish, scoring the big goal for us.
In Florida's last appearance, the Panthers exploded for five goals in the third, setting down the visiting Winnipeg Jets, 6-3:
Power-play goals 1:17 apart by Peter Mueller and Kovalev erased a 3-2 deficit and gave the Panthers the lead for good before Jonathan Huberdeau and Tomas Kopecky padded the lead.
Brian Campbell and Kris Versteeg also scored for the Panthers, while Jose Theodore made 22 saves to improve his career record against Winnipeg to 16-6-2. Tomas Fleischmann had a career-high three assists.
With the victory, the Panthers avoided their first six-game losing streak since an 0-7-3 stretch from March 19 to April 8, 2011.
Kovalev spoke about his goal afterward:
I don't know why everybody stopped. Maybe they got caught on the play or maybe they thought there was a whistle, but I was wide open. Flash gave me the pass and all I had to do was rip it as hard as I could.
The Sabres played the Canadiens in Montreal yesterday afternoon, details from NHL.COM:
The Sabres were coming off a thrilling 7-4 win in Boston on Thursday, but none of that momentum appeared to make its way past the Canadian border and into Montreal.
"I think we left our heads in Boston," coach Lindy Ruff said.
The scorching-hot Thomas Vanek scored a shorthanded goal on a third-period breakaway to snap Carey Price's shutout bid and make it a 5-1 game, but it was far too late for the Sabres (3-4-1) to muster a comeback.
Vanek's goal gave him at least a point in each of the seven games he's played and increased his League-leading total to 16 points.
Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller did not make it to the third period, getting pulled by Ruff at the second intermission after allowing four goals on 21 shots. It was the third straight game Miller has allowed four goals, and his save percentage over that span is .862 while his record is 1-3-1 over his last five starts.
Still, Ruff commended Miller for keeping the score at 1-0 after a first period in which the Sabres were outshot 15-1.
Afterward, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff understated the loss:
"If Ryan doesn't play the way he did in the first, this could have really gotten out of hand," Ruff said. "It was out of hand as it was, but it could have really gotten out of hand."
Gametime: 3PM ET
Season Series: 0-0-0, first of three contests, only affair in Buffalo.
All-Time Series: Panthers are 26-37-9 all time against Buffalo. This will be the 73rd time the two square off.
Florida Panthers: 2-5-0, .286, four points, on pace for 27 points. Fifth in the Southeast Division, 15th in the Eastern Conference, tied for 29th in the NHL. Last five: L-L-L-L-W, playoff odds: 13.4%
Buffalo Sabres: 3-4-1, .438, seven points, on pace for 42 points. Fifth in the Northeast Division, tied for 11th in the Eastern Conference, tied for 22nd in the NHL. Last five: L-L-O-W-L, playoff odds: 30.4%
Birthdays: Fourth line forward Jerred Smithson turns 34 tomorrow. Currently in the system goaltender (and NHL all-time leader in save percentage) Brian Foster also celebrates a birthday tomorrow, with his 26th.
This Date in Panthers History: 2009
Gregory Campbell, Stephen Weiss and Cory Stillman scored in regulation, while defenseman Bryan McCabe sealed the victory in overtime as the Panthers defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs, 4-3 North of the border. Weiss added two assists, and Panthers goaltender Craig Anderson stopped 31-of-34 Leafs shots.Florida is pretty good on February 3rd, accruing a 5-2-2 all-time record.
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