Roberto Luongo’s shutout streak against the Sabres came to an end Saturday night.
Luckily for the Panthers, Nick Bjugstad and Aaron Ekblad continued to put up points.
Bjugstad’s goal off an assist from Ekblad in the final seconds of the second period was the difference in the Panthers’ 3-2 win over Buffalo at BB&T Center.
Ekblad had the primary assist on Florida’s final two goals as Tomas Kopecky got his first of the season after deflecting a long shot.
“This was a good win, I’m pretty happy about it,” said Ekblad, who had three assists Saturday to give him six points in the past four games. “I knew [Kopecky] tipped it, but I don’t know how.
“It was a knuckleball on my end. He got a stick on it and it went in. I got the puck there as quick as I can and good things happen.”
Said coach Gerard Gallant: “He put some pucks to the net and was rewarded for it.”
The Panthers, who have beaten the Sabres five consecutive times, took a 1-0 lead in the first off a long snapshot from Brad Boyes.
Luongo, who had shut out the Sabres in three consecutive starts, held Buffalo scoreless into the second.
With 8:58 left in the second, Drew Stafford finally ended Luongo’s streak against Buffalo at 211 minutes 2 seconds.
“It took a perfect play from Gretzky on the one-timer there,” Luongo joked. “It was a hell of a play by them, a hell of a shot. I’m sure they were happy to get one by me.”
After Kopecky scored to give Florida back the lead, Brian Gionta tied it again by deflecting a puck as Luongo gave up two goals off three shots.
With 16.2 seconds left in the second period, Bjugstad knocked a loose puck past Michal Neuvirth to give Florida a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
“Obviously, every goal is important, and that one was timing,” Kopecky said. “It gave us momentum going into the third.”
Florida general manager Dale Tallon apologized to Buffalo owner Terry Pegula and general manager Tim Murray for the team’s pregame video Saturday night.
The video interspersed scenes from Buffalo’s recent major snowstorm with those of the Panthers’ mascot fishing and doing other activities outside in the South Florida sun.
Pegula, who lives in Palm Beach County and recently purchased the Bills, was incensed as he spoke with Tallon about the video.
More than a dozen deaths were blamed on the massive snowstorm that crippled parts of the Buffalo area last month.
“People died in that storm,” Pegula was overheard saying to Tallon. “That’s not funny.”
Tallon said he didn’t see the video — he wasn’t in the press box at the time — but was told about it before meeting with Pegula and Murray during the second intermission.
“I can’t comment on it because I haven’t seen it and don’t really know what’s in it,” Tallon told the Miami Herald after walking away from the Buffalo management group. “But if they’re upset, rightfully so.”
Tallon later said he doesn’t like when teams poke fun of another city or organization and has tried to get rid of that within Florida’s in-game entertainment.
▪ Center Dave Bolland didn’t return Saturday, although Gallant said he was close enough to be considered a game-time decision.
Florida can activate Bolland, out since Oct.17 with a groin injury, at any time and currently has two open roster spots.
Gallant said he didn’t know whether Scottie Upshall (ankle) or Aleksander Barkov (hand) would travel with the team to St. Louis on Sunday afternoon.
If they don’t, he said, they would probably meet the team in Detroit for Wednesday’s practice.