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Sabres’ Winning Streak Ends at Three

Feb 27, 2024; Sunrise, Florida, USA; Buffalo Sabres right wing Tage Thompson (72) looks on against the Florida Panthers during the second period at Amerant Bank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Panthers score twice on PP, ending Sabres’ streak.

Score: Buffalo Sabres 2 | Florida Panthers 3
Shots: BUF 31 | FLA 37

Buffalo Sabres Goals: Dylan Cozens (12), Tage Thompson (17)
Florida Panthers Goals: Sam Bennett (14), Matthew Tkachuk (21), Brandon Montour (5)

Minus 1: The Officiating

Weak calls all around during Tuesday’s game included a mystery holding call against Zach Benson in the first period, when Benson appeared to be the one being held. Benson also later got called for tripping in the third period, a penalty that Don Granato was incredibly angry about – so much so that he ended up getting tagged with a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct. The resulting power play on Benson’s second penalty also led to a Brandon Montour goal.

It’s certainly worth a bigger discussion, both about the officiating in general this season and also about how coaches are punished for vocalizing their displeasure. Granato got the bench minor, but elsewhere in the league tonight, Toronto’s Sheldon Keefe was ejected. To some extent, I get it, but come on.

Minus 2: Pull. The. Goalie.

The Sabres were still within reach of the game, and it took an infuriatingly long time for Granato to finally pull the goaltender for the extra attacker. ESPN+’s goalie cam showed Luukkonen, who kept looking towards the bench and waiting… and waiting… and waiting… for the call. Even when the top line came on the ice for a faceoff, he remained in net. (Actually, he came to the bench for the timeout and was on the bench with his helmet off, then went back on the ice.) It was also frustrating that the Sabres seemed to play a bit of keep-away with the puck in their own zone as the clock ticked down, before finally sending it up the ice for a few chances. Too little, too late. Just so many inexcusable moments in the final minutes tonight.

Plus 1: EJ Got Benched

Okay, for any Erik Johnson apologists out there, let me just say: I’m sorry. But Don Granato’s best decision of the night was stapling EJ to the bench in the first period. Things were fine, until they weren’t. The Panthers scored on consecutive EJ shifts, including their second goal that went in directly off his stick. Sure, sometimes those things happen and you can’t control it, but come on, man. Johnson’s last shift lasted 14 seconds and ended with 4:24 left in the first period, and the Sabres skated the rest of the night with five defensemen… and honestly? That was the smarter choice.

Final Thoughts

Tonight’s game had some things to like, and plenty to dislike. Giving up two power play goals? Not good. Tage Thompson finally getting back on the board with his 17th of the season? Good. Rasmus Dahlin notching his 30th assist of the season? Yes, please. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen’s play? Great. That second period overall effort? Not good (outshot 18-8!). Being outhit 37-19? Meh. The officiating? No thanks. It was also good to see Jeff Skinner in the lineup, given the uncertainty surrounding his status going into tonight’s game.

If I can take one positive thing from this game, it’s this: for how good the Panthers are, and how not-good the Sabres have been over the season, this game could’ve been much further apart than it was in the end. Keeping it a close game, and losing by just one goal – yes, they’re nothing but moral victories, and they won’t help Buffalo get any closer to a playoff spot. Did I expect the Sabres to extend their winning streak tonight? No. Did I anticipate that they might get blown out? Maybe. The bar is on the floor, but tonight, they at least stumbled over it.

Another fun fact: Rasmus Dahlin skated 30:49 tonight. He has now skated 29+ minutes in seven straight games, the first player to do so since Erik Karlsson in 2016. He is also leading the NHL in ATOI (average TOI) since January 1, at 26:46.

Next up: the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday. The Lightning dropped a 6-2 decision to the Flyers tonight.