Recap: Panthers first to clinch playoff spot after 5-3 victory over Sabres

Anthony Duclair scores twice in record-setting 48th win

Another game, another win, more records, more career-highs...

The Florida Panthers held on for a 5-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center to set a new franchise mark with 48 records. They’ll add to that over the final 13 games.

The Sabres got the first period’s only goal with 2:47 left in the frame when Cody Eakin went back to Mattias Samuelsson at point and his shot was deflected in by Kyle Okposo.

Florida took control of the game with a dominant second period that saw them outshoot Buffalo 22-8 and light the lamp three times.

Jonathan Huberdeau set a new franchise record for points in a single season with his 97th when he converted a pass from Claude Giroux after Sabres defenseman Jacob Bryson slipped and lost the puck at 5:18.

Anton Lundell knocked in the rebound of Ben Chiarot’s shot from the point after winning an offensive draw at 15:55. Mason Marchment drew the second assist for dropping the puck back to Chiarot. That’s 15 goals for the rookie center. His next point will be his 40th.

Anthony Duclair would get his first of the afternoon 1:06 later. After Duclair stole the puck from Jeff Skinner to keep possession in the Buffalo zone, he dropped back to MacKenzie Weegar. The defenseman passed over to partner Gustav Forsling, who crossed back over to Duclair, and he wired a wrist shot from the right circle past Dustin Tokarski.

Duclair would add another 57 second into the third to put the Cats up by three. After Aleksander Barkov was stopped in close by Tokarski, he sent the rebound over to Duclair in the left circle and The Duke snapped it home for his 28th of the season. Carter Verhaeghe picked up the second helper on the eventual game-winner.

A pair of Florida penalties would allow the Sabres to creep back into the game midway through the frame.

Skinner would clean up the garbage at 8:25 after Casey Mittlestadt set up Alex Tuch and his shot deflected off Mittlestadt and then Radko Gudas in the crease with Spencer Knight on the ice and Robert Hagg off for holding.

Buffalo’s power play would get a little bit of puck luck again 1:54 later when Mittlestadt’s centering attempt was denied, but ended up on the blade of Skinner. The crafty veteran immediately sent a no-look backhand pass to an open Tage Thompson, who buried it to pull the home side within a goal.

Back-to-back late calls on the Sabres put the Panthers on a 5-on-3, and Weegar clinched it with 1:35 remaining when he shot behind Tokarski, who was coming across to take away the short side. The assists on Weegar’s seventh went to Barkov and Giroux.

Knight stopped 26 of 29 shots to pick up his second win of the weekend and 15th victory of the season. Pretty solid job by the rookie keeper, who didn’t really have much of a chance on any of the goals allowed.

The Panthers have now amassed 102 points, one off the franchise high, and have opened up a four-point lead on the Carolina Hurricanes for the top spot in the Eastern Conference with 13 games remaining for both division leaders. The Cats currently have a nine-point advantage over the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning, with the chasers each having a game in hand. Those two teams will meet tonight at Amalie Arena, burning the game in hand, while the Cats and Buds will tussle on Tuesday at FLA Live Arena.

Wings & Things

  • With their 20th road win, the Panthers became the first team in the NHL to officially clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They earned their 22nd comeback win this season, second-most in the NHL behind the 24 by the New York Ranger and put up at least 40 shots for the seventh time in their last eight games.
  • MacKenzie Weegar’s second period assist established a new career-high in points (37) for the 28-year-old blueliner. He added to that and matched his career-high in goals (7) when he completed the scoring with a well-placed shot late in the third.
  • Defenseman Radko Gudas played his 600th NHL game. Gudas dished out a game-high eight hits and blocked a shot in 16:31 TOI.
  • Dustin Tokarski put in a solid effort, stopping 40 shots to keep his team in the game. Alex Tuch picked up his 100th career assist on Jeff Skinner’s power-play goal. Skinner has nine points in his past eight games.
  • Robert Hagg played against the Sabres for the first time since being acquired by Florida on March 20th. Hagg logged 17:09 of ice team against his old mates and registered three hits, a block, and a +1 rating.
  • Florida’s beat Buffalo for the third time this season, ending the Sabres point streak at eight games (5-0-3). More on that at Die By The Blade./

Video Recap