The Cats were done in by another slow start and spotty goaltender, as they fell behind by two in the first period and Skinner’s second goal late in the third period, which should have been stopped, helped ice the game with the Panthers trying to force overtime.
Skinner got his first of the night at 4:42 after Mike Matheson failed to clear the zone and the Panthers proceeded to play hot potato with the puck until the sniper gained possession a second time after his pass bounced off Sam Reinhart’s skate and worked his way into the slot before solving Roberto Luongo blocker-side off the bar and down. A great individual effort by Skinner, but let’s not kid ourselves, he was aided greatly by the terrible effort of all five Cat skaters on the ice.
A Jared McCann turnover led to the next Buffalo tally 2:33 later. Conor Sheary went to Vladimir Sobotka and he sprung Tage Thompson, who breezed by Keith Yandle while meeting little resistance and beat Luongo for his fifth of the season. Down by a goal that’s a save the veteran keeper needs to make.
At this point, it seemed like Luongo wouldn’t make through the first period for a second straight time, but the Cats managed to get to the dressing room without taking on further damage.
Luogno was much better in the second, stopping all 11 of the shots he faced to keep his club close.
After coming up with a takeaway in his zone, Colton Sceviour sent Frank Vatrano up the left side on a 2-on-1 break with Jayce Hawryluk. Vatrano chose wisely and snapped a wrist shot over Linus Ullmark’s glove at the 13:42 mark to get his club on the board,
It looked like Florida would go down with a whimper when Reinhart deflected Lawrence Pilut’s long slapper, Henrik Borgstrom was way too late in getting out to cover the point here, by Luongo 1:20 into the third period, but the Cats would make things interesting later in the frame.
With the Panthers on a power play, Jonathan Huberdeau went down low to Aleksander Barkov, whose stuff attempt was denied by Ullmark. Barkov stuck with it and eventually worked the puck free and tapped it over to Mike Hoffman, who deposited it into an open net to cut the deficit back to one at 12:15.
Skinner got loose down the left side after a Borgstrom turnover in the Sabres end and bagged the eventual winner at 16:14 when his shot from the middle of the circle eluded Luongo, who looked to be off his angle.
With the extra attacker on, Aaron Ekblad teed up Keith Yandle for a drive that Ullmark stopped, but Barkov was able to just slip the rebound in on the backhand with 1:29 remaining to keep the pressure on.
Unfortunately, the Cats couldn’t muster up one more and Buffalo held on to snap its seven-game losing streak against Florida, hitting the 50-point mark in the process.
After getting off to horrid start in Detroit, the Panthers found themselves behind the eight ball yet again as brief stint of bad play early in the first led to a Buffalo brace. The Cats were good enough to stay close, but too sloppy to win this one, failing to get the puck out of their own end too many times and not making smart enough plays to keep possession in the offensive zone. Luongo allowing two goals that looked very stoppable certainly didn’t help matters. A handful of players, I’ll single out Huberdeau, Barkov, Hoffman and Ekblad, played well, while others like McCann, Borgstrom and Matheson, did not. The Panthers can’t overcome that kind of imbalance from its lineup. Florida returns home for a one-off against Columbus, a team that always seem to give them trouble, on Saturday before embarking on a tough five-game road trip with stops in Pittsburgh, Edmonton, Calgary Vancouver and Montreal.
Video Recap (courtesy of NHL.com)