It got pretty dicey towards the end, but the Florida Panthers held on to close out the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 at First Niagara Center last night to win back-to-back games for the first time in 2014. The victory was the Panthers' twentieth of the season.
Captain Ed Jovanovski scored his first of the season, and added an assist, to spark the Cats offense and Florida's PK unit killed off a key double-minor, high-sticking call on Brad Boyes late in the final frame to help preserve the win.
Buffalo's Drew Stafford opened the scoring with a power-play goal at the 2:23 mark of the first period, with Dmitry Kulikov in the box, ending Florida's long streak of successful penalty kills.
Jesse Winchester replied for the Panthers just 1:43 later to quickly even the game. Jovanovski and Jonathan Huberdeau combined to pick up the assists on Winchester's sixth.
The Sabres regained the lead when Sabres defender Mike Weber wiped out Huberdeau on the boards, freeing up the puck for Tyler Ennis, who fed Stafford in the slot for his second of the night.
Florida battled back again later in the first when Sean Bergenheim deflected Tom Gilbert's point shot past Ryan Miller to even the score at two. Aleksander Barkov picked up the secondary assist for his team-leading 24th point.
Jovanovski scored unassisted 52 seconds later to give the Panthers their first lead when he beat Miller with a slapper from high in the slot. The grizzled veteran now has 4 points in 9 games since his return from hip surgery.
Rookie center Nick Bjugstad whipped home his 11th goal at 16:12 of the second period to stake the Cats to a 4-2 advantage. Brian Campbell and defense partner Gilbert collected the helpers on what turned out to be the game-winner.
The Sabres would add a second power-play marker when Steve Ott converted at 8:36 of the third period, with Winchester off for slashing, to pull Buffalo within a goal.
Thomas, who stopped 15 of 16 shots in the final period, would shut the door the rest of the way to give the road weary Panthers a second straight win.
After beating the Penguins the night before, Florida looked gassed in the third. The Sabres outshot the Cats by a wide 16-4 margin, but only managed to come away with the Ott goal. To their credit, the Panthers dug deep and managed to escape Buffalo with a much-needed two points to finish off the three-game trip with a 2-1 record. The win kept Florida seven points behind the absolutely en fuego Columbus Blue Jackets for the Eastern Conference's final wildcard slot. With 32 games remaining, seven points is a manageable number, but the Cats need to keep stringing together wins to really cut into the deficit.
Odds & Ends
- Aleksander Barkov left the game late in the first with a lower-body injury and did not return. The injury is not believed to be serious. Hopefully, the rookie will be back for Friday's match-up against Nathan MacKinnon and the Colorado Avalanche.
- Ed Jovanovski's goal was his first since April 5, 2012. In addition to the two points, Jovo finished the game with a +3 rating.
- The Sabres ended up 2 for 7 on the power play, denting the Cats' PK for the first time in 2014. Florida had not surrendered a power-play goal since December 28th, against the Red Wings. The unit came up huge when it counted, killing off Boyes' double-minor for high-sticking Henrik Tallinder with the game on the line in the third.
- After scoring 5 goals on 28 shots against the Penguins, the Cats were efficient again, beating Ryan Miller 4 times on just 22 shots.
- Have to wondered if Sabres coach Ted Nolan is second guessing his decision to go with Miller last night. No knock against Miller, but backup Jhonas Enroth was a brick wall in the first two meetings between the teams.
- The Panthers have now gotten a goal from a defenseman in three straight games. With the Cats needing all the secondary scoring they can get, it's nice to see the "D" finally chipping in.
- Jonathan Huberdeau is showing signs of ending his sophomore slump. The 20-year-old forward now has points in three consecutive tilts.
- Shuffle off to frigid Buffalo for Die By The Blade's take on things.