SUNRISE, Fla. – Sometimes it's about quality, not quantity. Just ask the Florida Panthers.
Dmitry Kulikov returned to the Florida lineup after missing 23 games with a knee injury, and scored the winning goal in the seventh round of the shootout as the Panthers downed the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 on Saturday. Buffalo outshot Florida 26-17 on the night, limiting the Panthers to just one shot in the third period and four in the first.
The shootout loss puts Buffalo’s record at 33-29-10 with 10 games left to play, and their 76 points leave them in 10th place in the Eastern Conference -- two points back of the idle Washington Capitals for the final playoff spot in the East.
It was yet another close game for the Sabres, who are now 20-7-10 in one-goal games this season. Five of Buffalo’s last six games have been decided by overtime or shootout, and the last 13 games (8-2-3) have been decided by two goals or less. The Sabres have now played a league-high 21 games that have gone into overtime. It was also the seventh straight game the Sabres were tied after two periods.
Lindy Ruff knows there’s no solace in getting a point in the shootout. The Sabres aren’t in a position to be giving anything away at this point in the season.
“Any point you lose right now is a lot,” said Ruff. “Even a half point would be a lot. Any point we lose right now is a lot. We’ve gotta move on to the next game and try to get two.
“It’s disappointing. The points in the shootouts are big points. But I picked one good shooter and six bad ones tonight.”
It was a relatively slow night between the pipes for Sabres netminder Ryan Miller, seeing very little action for the better part of two periods.
“Nobody wanted to take risks in the third period, so it got back to being really slow,” Miller explained. “It’s a weird night for me in that department. There’s not a lot going on, then it’s busy. Not a lot going on, then it’s busy again.”
It didn’t take long for Buffalo to get on the board, as Tyler Ennis scored on Buffalo’s first shot of game just 75 seconds into the opening period. Drew Stafford spotted Ennis driving to the net, and ladled a perfect pass across the crease that Ennis banged home. The goal extended Ennis’ point streak to four games, and gives him 15 (7+8) in his last 16 games.
Buffalo held Florida without a shot on goal for most of the first period, at one point owning an 8-0 advantage. But the Panthers came back quickly and made their first two shots of the game count.
Mikael Samuelsson’s howitzer from the top of the circle opened their scoring at 17:15, and then veteran John Madden gave the Panthers a 2-1 lead 38 seconds later on a rush down the left wing.
“The second one wasn’t a great goal, but the first was a good look on a one-timer,” said Miller. “The Madden shot was a good shot, but one I needed to probably save.”
Buffalo tied the game on a play that was indirectly started by Mike Weber, who had rocked Florida’s Tomas Kopecky with a textbook bodycheck at the Sabres blueline. Shawn Matthias then initiated a fight with Weber and received an additional two minute minor. Twenty-five seconds into the ensuing power play, Derek Roy bounced a backhander off Jason Garrison’s skate to even the score at 2-2.
Buffalo continues their tour of the Sunshine State on Monday in Tampa against the Lightning. Game time is 7:30 p.m.
1-0 BUF: Ennis fought off Weiss down low to bang home Stafford's pass. (1:15)… 1-1: Samuelsson beats Miller with a blast from the top of the circle on FLA's first shot of the game. (17:15, PP)… 2-1 FLA: Madden darts down the left side and fires a low wrister past Miller. (17:53) … Shots: FLA-4, BUF-10
2-2: Derek Roy gathers up the Pominville rebound in front and backhands a shot past a screened Theodore. (9:41, PP) … Shots: FLA-12, BUF-12
No scoring … Shots: FLA-1 BUF-4
No scoring … Shots: FLA-0 BUF-0
SABRES NOTES: Andrej Sekera returned to the Buffalo lineup after missing the last five games with pneumonia. He led the team in ice time with 24:21… Tyler Myers (suspension), Brayden McNabb (healthy), Nathan Gerbe (upper body) and Matt Ellis (knee) were Buffalo’s scratches.