Florida Panthers

January 22, 2014

Penalty killing lifts Florida Panthers over Buffalo Sabres

The Panthers, helped by Tim Thomas’ sharp goaltending, withstood an extended power play in the third period to beat the Sabres.

When it comes to killing penalties, a team’s goalie is often your best defense.

With Tim Thomas, the Panthers feel pretty good about their chances, regardless of the situation.

The Panthers needed a big penalty kill late Tuesday night and got it as Thomas stopped shot after shot in a 4-3 victory over the Sabres in which Florida hung on for dear life.

Buffalo had an extended power play — which included a 4-on-3 chance for almost 90 seconds — but failed to score. Florida gave up a pair of power-play goals earlier in the game, but its penalty kill worked wonders against the Sabres when it truly counted.

Tuesday’s win was Florida’s second in less than 24 hours after it thumped the Penguins 5-1 on Monday.

“There was a little bit of chaos there at the end, but I bet it was entertaining for the fans,’’ said Thomas, who stopped 28 of the final 29 shots he faced, including 15 of 16 in the third period.

“I can laugh at it [now] since we came out on top.’’

The Panthers hadn’t surrendered a power-play goal since Dec. 28 before Drew Stafford scored on Buffalo’s first opportunity 2:23 in. Stafford’s goal, his first of two, was the first Florida had allowed after stopping 27 in a row.

“That was a hard-fought game,’’ said Jesse Winchester, who scored the tying goal less than two minutes later. “We grinded it out and got the big PKs when we needed them. It’s a really rewarding feeling to get two straight on the road. It feels pretty darned good.’’

In the third with a 4-3 lead, Ed Jovanovski and Brad Boyes landed in the penalty box together. Boyes was given a four-minute infraction for a high stick, giving the Sabres ample opportunity to tie the score.

They didn’t. When Boyes came out of the box with two minutes left to play, Florida still had the lead.

“They came through, battled, blocked shots and did what they had to do,’’ coach Peter Horachek said. “It’s tough to win in anyone’s barn these days. When you can learn to win, it’s a valuable lesson.’’

Florida, which took the season series against the Sabres, scored three goals in the opening period to take a 3-2 lead into the second.

Winchester, who has four points since coming off the injured list Monday, knocked in a long shot from Jovanovski to tie things.

After Stafford gave Buffalo a 2-1 lead with 13:44 left in the period, Florida scored twice within 52 seconds late in the period.

Sean Bergenheim made it 2-2 by getting his stick on Tom Gilbert’s long shot. Soon after, Jovanovski let a heavy wrister fly from just inside the blue line for a 3-2 lead and his first goal since 2012.

“Has it been that long?” said Jovanovski, playing in his 1,100th NHL game. “I was just trying to get a shot to the net and got lucky. ... It was nice to see.’’

The Panthers made it 4-2 in the second when Nick Bjugstad got loose on a breakaway and snapped a shot over Ryan Miller’s shoulder.

With Florida holding the lead, Thomas — back after missing Monday’s game — held down the fort as Florida was outshot 16-4 in the third and 35-22 overall.

“This was big for the whole team. We needed it,’’ Thomas said.

Barkov leaves

Rookie center Aleksander Barkov left late in the first period with an undisclosed lower body injury.

Horachek said the injury isn’t considered serious, adding that Barkov was lifted from the game for precautionary reasons.

Barkov, the second-overall pick of the 2013 draft, leads the Panthers in points.

“They said it would be safer. ... He probably could have gone back out,’’ Horachek said afterward. “We were [winning] and on the road.

“We just want to be very careful with him.’’

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