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Panthers Pounce on Sabres

Panthers clinch a playoff berth as Sabres 8 game point streak comes to an end

NHL: Florida Panthers at Buffalo Sabres Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Score: Sabres 3 | Panthers 5

Shots: BUF 29 | FLA 40

Buffalo Sabres Goals:

1) Okposo (Samuelsson, Eakin)

2) Skinner (Mittelstadt, Tuch)

3) Thompson (Skinner, Mittelstadt)

Florida Panthers Goals:

1) Huberdeau (Giroux)

2) Lundell (Chiarot, Marchment)

3) Duclair (Forsling, Weegar)

4) Duclair (Barkov, Verhaeghe)

5) Weegar (Giroux, Barkov)

Plus 1: O Captain My Captain

Kyle Okposo is one of the biggest surprises of this season. He has outperformed expectations by a wide margin and is on pace to have his first 20 goal season as a Buffalo Sabre. His 18th goal was a beautiful tip on a Samuelsson shot that gave Buffalo their only lead of the afternoon. His resurgence has been one of the better stories on this Sabres team. He plays with heart, sets a great example, and is being rewarded for his efforts. He may not have a “C” on his chest, but he clearly is one of the primary leaders in the locker room. His drive and determination are clearly rubbing off on the younger players. He is someone Buffalo should consider re-signing (at a more reasonable cap hit) after his contract expires in 2023.

Minus 1: 2nd Period Lull

The Panthers are known to be a dominant offensive team and today was no exception. After a relatively even 1st period, Florida poured on the pressure and notched a three-goal period in the 2nd. Their crisp passing through the neutral zone fed a quick transition game that put Buffalo’s defenders on their heels. Any misplay on the puck became a turnover and a shot against. The first Panthers’ goal was a direct result of a misplay of the puck by Bryson. One small mistake, and the puck is almost immediately behind Tokarski. The shots in the 2nd were a lopsided 22-8 advantage for Florida who showed exactly why they’re leading the Eastern Conference and a Stanley Cup contender.

Plus 2: Perfect Power Play

At any level of hockey, there can always be complaints about missed, weak, or blatantly wrong calls made by the referees. There definitely could have been more man advantages awarded to Buffalo throughout the game, but when they had their opportunities in the 3rd, they didn’t disappoint. The Sabres went a perfect 2 for 2 on the powerplay with goals coming from Skinner and Thompson. The first goal was originally waived off for goaltender interference but was granted to the Sabres after a coach’s challenge revealed Mittelstadt was pushed into Knight by a Florida defender. The second powerplay goal was a great finish by Thompson off an impressive behind the back pass from Skinner. With only the 19th ranked power play, Buffalo could benefit from some improved special teams play. Today’s execution is another positive sign.

Final Thoughts

This was a very tough matchup against one of the best teams in the league and the Sabres held their own for most of the game. They were badly outplayed in the 2nd period but showed no signs of backing down or throwing in the towel. They may not have completed the comeback this time, but this was another example of a team that refuses to go quietly into the night. Since the start of March, this team has shown excellent growth in every aspect of their team game. The 2nd period is a reminder of how far they still must go to be Stanley Cup contenders. The 3rd period comeback is a sign of how far they’ve come. A month ago, the Panthers walked into Buffalo and blew the Sabres out 6-1 and they looked as if they weren’t in the same league as Florida. Today, Buffalo went toe to toe with the top team in the East and proved they can compete with the best.