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PANTHERS (30-33-12) at SABRES (42-23-10)Last 10 -- Florida 3-5-2; Buffalo 6-3-1
Season series -- This is the last of four meetings, with the home team still looking for a victory. On Oct. 21, the Sabres scored five goals in the first period and cruised to a 5-2 road win. Ryan Miller made 41 saves to earn the victory. On Nov. 18, the Panthers scored four times in the third period of a 6-2 road win. Michael Frolik scored twice and Tomas Vokoun made 26 saves. On March 20, Jochen Hecht, Patrick Kaleta and Mike Grier each scored to lift the Sabres to a 3-1 road win.
Big story -- Florida has dropped out of the playoff picture, but the Sabres, who are already assured of a postseason berth, are collecting as many points as possible to clinch the Northeast Division and a top-three seed. Buffalo has not participated in the playoffs since 2007.
Panthers -- Florida is beginning a two-game road trip that will also take the Panthers to Boston on Thursday.
In their last game on Monday, the Panthers blew a 2-1 lead late in the third period and lost 3-2 in overtime at home against Nashville. Keith Ballard and Stephen Weiss scored third period goals, both assisted by Michael Frolik, to put Florida ahead. Patric Hornqvist of Nashville tied the score with 3:07 remaining and Francois Bouillon tallied in overtime.
Scott Clemmensen stopped 22 shots for the Panthers, who lost their third straight game.
The loss left Florida eight points behind Boston for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
"We've got no one to blame but ourselves," defenseman Bryan McCabe told the Miami Herald. "We put ourselves in this spot. Like I've said before, we've been very inconsistent this year. There's no other way to look at it."
Sabres -- Buffalo returns home for one game before embarking on a two-game road trip that will take the Sabres to Toronto and Montreal.
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In their last game on Monday, the Sabres earned a 3-1 victory at Boston. Tyler Myers, Paul Gaustad and Tim Kennedy scored goals, and Ryan Miller made 40 saves to earn the win. Miller stopped Marco Sturm on a penalty shot only 3:20 into the first period. Buffalo played without regulars Thomas Vanek, Tim Connolly, Patrick Kaleta and Raffi Torres, all sidelined with injuries.
With the win, Buffalo opened up a seven-point lead over Ottawa in the race for the Northeast Division title.
Who's hot -- For the Panthers, McCabe has 3 assists in four games, and Cory Stillman has 2 goals and 4 assists in seven games. For the Sabres, Jason Pominville has 2 goals and 4 assists in five games, Paul Gaustad has 3 goals in three games, and Tim Kennedy has a goal and 2 assists in three games.
Injury report -- For the Panthers, David Booth (concussion) is on injured reserve, and Gregory Campbell (foot) and Byron Bitz (elbow) are day-to-day. For the Sabres, Vanek (lower-body) and Connolly (lower-body) are day-to-day. Kaleta had thumb surgery and will miss at least two weeks. UPDATE [11:10 AM]: Head Coach Lindy Ruff said Torres will return to the lineup tonight and Mark Mancari has been reassigned to the Portland Pirates.
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Stat pack -- Florida's Stephen Weiss is having a career year offensively. With a goal and an assist on March 21 against Tampa Bay, Weiss registered his 12th multi-point game of the season. The goal also marked the 100th of his career. To date, Weiss has already set career bests for goals (27) and power-play goals (11) with seven games left to be played. … McCabe is three points shy of 500 for his career. … On Monday, Radek Dvorak played his 553rd game with the Panthers, moving into third place on the all-time franchise list behind Robert Svehla (573) and Olli Jokinen (567). … The Sabres are 27-0-0 when leading after two periods. … Last Saturday, Patrick Lalime of Buffalo became the 66th goalie in NHL history to record 200 career victories by defeating Tampa Bay. … Buffalo is 30-4-4 when scoring first.
Puck drop -- "We all kind of have to elevate our game here toward the last stretch of the season. I think that's how you want to go into it entering the playoffs." -- Pominville, as quoted in the Buffalo News