Panthers kick off long road trip with 2-0 blanking of Sabres

Brother Louie stops 30 for yet another shutout in Buffalo.

The Florida Panthers jumped out to a first period lead and Roberto Luongo stymied the Sabres the rest of the way as the Cats began a six-game game road in fine fashion with a 2-0 win in chilly Buffalo.

The Panthers got off to a quick start for a change, opening the scoring at the 3:29 mark when Brad Boyes took a Sean Bergenheim pass that was deflected by Aleksander Barkov and knocked it past Sabres starter Michal Neuvirth for his seventh of season. Bergenheim stole the puck from former Cat defenseman Tyson Strachan behind the net to start the play off.

Florida added to its lead midway through the frame to complete the scoring early. Nick Bjugstad converted with Mike Weber in the sin bin serving a tripping minor for his team-leading fourteenth goal. Aaron Ekblad sprung Jimmy Hayes at the blue line and Hayes' backhand shot rebounded out in front to a wide-open Bjugstad, who buried the puck in the yawning net.

Roberto Luongo, who finished with 30 saves, made the lead stand up for his second shutout of the season against the Sabres. It was his third consecutive shutout at Buffalo's First Niagara Center.

Luongo best save came midway through the second when he stoned Tyler Ennis with an impressive leg save. He also made nice stops on Zemgus Girgensons and Chris Stewart late in the game with the Buffalo net empty for the extra-attacker.

Neuvirth delivered a solid performance for the Sabres, turning away 31 of 33 Florida shots.

The Panthers bounced back from Wednesday's lackluster showing against the New York Rangers to get the road trip started off on the good foot, and more importantly, avoid any kind of lengthy pointless streak. Sure, they could have closed the game out better, but the two first period goals and Luongo's crazy Buffalo magic were enough to carry them through. Florida also got some help from the Minnesota Wild, who beat Toronto 3-1 in St. Paul. The Cats pulled within two points of the Maple Leafs with three games in hand. Although the Panthers trail the Rangers by just a single point for the second wild card spot, the Buds seem like they might be the easier of the two to pass right now. Next stop, D.C. on Sunday, where the red-hot Washington Capitals await.

Odds & Ends

  • Roberto Luongo has not allowed a goal in Buffalo since February 11, 2006. The shutout, his 68th, moved him past Roy "Shrimp" Worters into 13th place all-time. Of historical note, Worters played for not one, but two defunct NHL franchises: the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Americans.
  • Aaron Ekblad's assist was his 21st point of the season, tying him with Ed Jovanovski for most points by a rookie defenseman in franchise history. That record will belong to Eggs soon, real soon.
  • Shane O'Brien made his Panther debut, filling in for Erik Gudbranson. O'Brien finished the game with 3 hits, 1 shot and an even rating in 16:03 TOI. Brandon Pirri subbed in for Tomas Fleischmann, who injured himself at the morning skate.
  • Aleksander Barkov, who set up a goal against the Rangers on New Year's Eve, has assists in three of his last five games.
  • There was only one minor called against each team. The Cats cashed in on Weber's infraction and killed off the tripping call on Dave Bolland with 38 seconds remaining.
  • Brad Boyes led the Panthers with five shots on goal. The former Sabre has points in five straight games against his old team.
  • Hats off to the Buffalo fans for filling the building. The Sabres are struggling mightily and the Cats aren't the strongest of road draws, to say the least.
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