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Red-hot Panthers cruise to 4-1 win over Sabres

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Cats just one point out of a playoff spot with three games in hand

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Florida Panthers Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

After reeling off four straight one-goal victories, the Florida Panthers had an easier time extending its winning streak to five, beating the last place Buffalo Sabres by a 4-1 count last night at the BB&T Center.

The Panthers got off to another quick start, lighting the lamp just 1:25 into the action. Jared McCann won an offensive zone faceoff to Jamie McGinn and he dropped the puck back to defenseman Mike Matheson, who moved into the slot and snapped a shot past Sabres goalie Robin Lehner. Florida has scored first in 11 of its last 13 games.

Buffalo got its only goal of the game 4:09 later off a bit of a fortuitous bounce to tie the score. Victor Antipin had his shot from the point blocked in front by Aleksander Barkov, but the puck came right to Ryan O’Reilly, who quickly fed Sam Reinhart for an easy finish with James Reimer now out of position.

A fight between enforcer Micheal Haley and Jordan Nolan occurred late in the frame, ending with Nolan slung to the ice, and the Panthers used the ensuing faceoff to forge ahead.

This time, Barkov won the draw to Evgenii Dadonov, who tapped it back to Keith Yandle. Yandle’s crossing pass found Aaron Ekblad heading towards the goal and he beat Lehner far side with a nicely-placed wrist shot from the right circle for his 13th goal at the 16:41 mark.

After previously passing up a glorious scoring opportunity, Barkov dazzled with another one of patented backhand beauties 6:49 into the second period. After taking a headman pass from Dadonov, Nick Bjugstad sprung Barkov, who split Justin Falk and Nathan Beaulieu before going top shelf on Lehner.

Bjugstad would collect another primary assist 4:27 later when his spinning backhander was denied by Lehner and the rebound came right to Colton Sceviour, who punched it home to complete the scoring. Captain Derek MacKenzie also drew an assist on Sceviour’s eighth of the campaign.

The Panthers held the Sabres to a mere five shots on goal during a chippy, penalty-filled third period and cruised to yet another win on home ice. The Anaheim Ducks beat Columbus in action from the west coast, allowing the Panthers to pull within one point of the second wild spot in the Eastern Conference, which is now jointly held by the Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes, who posted a win over New Jersey. With a win on Sunday afternoon against Philadelphia, Florida would vault those teams, at least temporary, as both play later that night.

Full Highlights (courtesy of NHL.com)

Wings & Things

  • James Reimer got the start on the second leg of a back-to-back and finished with 24 saves to post his 16th win of the season. A nice bounce back after giving up seven in Winnipeg during his last outing.
  • Aaron Ekblad’s goal was the 50th of his career and came in his 289th NHL game. Ekblad is two away from matching his current best of 15 goals, set in 2015-16.
  • Nicholas Baptiste led the Sabres attack with five shots on goal, but finished the tilt with a -3 rating.
  • With his 24th goal, Aleksander Barkov extended his point streak to five games. Barkov has 15 points (6G/9A) in his past 10 games.
  • Robin Lehner made 26 stops and saw his record fall to 13-24-8 and GAA rise to 2.97.
  • Micheal Haley racked up 15 PIM and had two shots on goal in 8:52 of ice time.
  • You can get the other side of Florida’s latest win by visiting Die By The Blade.

Condensed Game (courtesy of NHL.com)