Sabres De-Claw Panthers in Florida

Anderson was incredible last night in a game with huge playoff implications

Score: Panthers 1 | Sabres 3

Shots: FLA 54 | BUF 35

Buffalo Sabres Goals:

1)     Skinner (23) (Thompson (37), Jokiharju (9))

2)     Tuch (28) (Power (17), Thompson (38))

3)     Skinner (24) (Thompson (39))

Florida Panthers:

1)     Verhaeghe (Duclair, Luostarinen)

Plus 1: Age Old Wisdom

Craig Anderson is one of a dwindling group of active NHL players who remember seeing the Buffalo Sabres in the playoffs in 2011. During that season, Anderson had gotten traded midseason from Colorado to Ottawa where his career was about to take a positive turn. 12 years later, Anderson is trying to do the improbable: backstop the Sabres to a playoff berth. He was, by far, the best player for either team against the Panthers and made some truly sensational saves. He even went full “Old School” and pulled out a double pad stack to stop a breakaway chance. At 41 years old, Anderson is the oldest goalie to make 50+ saves in a regular season win. He also tied his career high in saves. Not too shabby for the oldest active player in the league.

Plus 2: Careful, They’re Learning

Buffalo has been notorious for surrendering leads in the third period of games. The previous game against Tampa was a perfect example. They had three separate 2 goal leads (3-1, 4-2, and 5-3), but still managed to be tied at the end of regulation. So, when the Sabres entered the third period, fans were all too prepared to watch this re-run. A tie game almost seemed inevitable after Carter Verhaeghe beat Anderson on the glove side 8:24 into the third. In the past, this would’ve spelled the beginning of a “hold on for dear life” type period for Buffalo. Thankfully, the Sabres didn’t try to go into a defensive shell. They went on the attack. Their successful counterattack yielded a restoration of the two-goal lead after Skinner sniped home his second of the game from a sharp angle. While the Panthers heavily outshot the Sabres in the third, 27-12, Buffalo didn’t sit back and wait for Florida to make something happen. The Sabres countered the Panthers comeback attempt with everything they had and battled for a vital regulation win. The coaches should use this game as an example of how to keep leads late against strong opponents, and maybe thank Craig for the 26 third period saves.

Plus 3: So You’re Saying There’s a Chance?

The enormity of beating the Panthers in regulation cannot be understated. This game represented a 4-point swing for two teams batting for a wild card spot. Not only did the lack of overtime prevent Florida from remaining ahead of the Sabres, but now Buffalo sits in the second wild card spot with 4 games in hand on Florida. With Washington’s recent implosion, Pittsburgh’s struggles, and the Islanders losing Barzal indefinitely, Buffalo is primed for a playoff push. The out-of-town scoreboard was kind to Buffalo with the Islanders and Senators losing in regulation. However, he most important thing for this team is to stay focused and take it one game at a time, but they must be happy with the opportunity in front of them. They have earned their place in the standings and now they control their own destiny.

Final Thoughts

What a difference a quick trip to Florida can make. In the immortal words of Michael Gary Scott, “Oh how the turn-tables.” After Tuesday’s disastrous showing at home versus the Maple Leafs, Buffalo rebounded to sweep the two-game Florida road trip. This win against the Panthers was the more important one for the standings with Buffalo now sitting in a playoff spot. You could feel the intensity of this game, and the Sabres rose to the occasion.

Although far from a consistent physical team, Buffalo did not back down when Florida got chippy. At the end of the game, Tkachuk took exception to Buffalo shooting on an empty net as time expired and went after a Sabres player. Cozens wasn’t having any of it and went right after Tkachuk to defend his teammate. The entire team followed suit and soon there was a team-wide scrum. That moment shows just how close this team has become. They’ll need to support and defend each other as the significance of each game elevates and a simultaneous increase in intensity follows.