After years at the bottom of the NHL standings, the Buffalo Sabres appear ready to start moving up.
Thursday, the youthful and improving Sabres completed a rare (for them) Sunshine State sweep by finally beating Roberto Luongo and the Panthers 3-2 at BB&T Center.
“This one is one me, the guys worked hard in front of me and I need to be better,” Luongo said. “The boys deserved a better fate. I didn’t do my job. It’s disappointing for me.”
Buffalo, fresh off Tuesday's 4-1 win in Tampa, hadn’t put a loss beside Luongo’s name in quite some time as he came into the night riding a seven-game personal winning streak against Buffalo.
The Sabres had not handed Luongo a loss since Feb. 11, 2006 — during Luongo’s first stint with the Panthers. Buffalo did score three on Luongo in a no-decision back in 2012.
“It’s going to happen, you can’t have a team’s number forever,” said Luongo, who made 15 saves. “This was an important game for our team.”
Florida, meanwhile, won four of five against Buffalo last season and had gleaned at least a point out of the Sabres in nine consecutive matchups before Thursday.
The Sabres, with the two points taken from Sunrise, hopped Florida and Boston in the standings with 16 points and sit three points back of the final wild card spot.
The Panthers head to Tampa with losses in six of the past seven.
“I didn’t like losing, but we outshot them 2 to 1 so there wasn’t a lot I didn’t like,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “We played pretty well, just didn’t put the puck in the net. It is disappointing to lose. We gave up some bad goals at the wrong time.”
Florida trailed 1-0 going into the second before Jonathan Huberdeau tied the score with his first goal of the season — in game No. 16.
Huberdeau, Florida’s leading scorer last season, celebrated by looking straight into the sky and sending his palms skyward although the Sabres tried dousing his celebration by challenging the goal.
Florida, after all, got Tyler Ennis’ goal (which would have made it 2-0) overturned as Ennis was offside as he came into the Florida zone.
Huberdeau’s goal stood as it appeared he was shoved into rookie goalie Linus Ullmark — who was terrific for much of the night and finished with 36 saves.
“We had a lot of shots and lots of missed opportunities,” Huberdeau said.
Buffalo finally got its second goal in the final 1:07 of the second after a marathon shift in which Cody Franson scored.
Down 3-1 in the third, Florida pulled within one when Vincent Trocheck deflected an Aaron Ekblad shot with four minutes remaining.
A last-ditch effort by the Panthers in the final minute came up without a goal, however.
▪ Center Sasha Barkov returned to team activities Thursday as he took part in the morning skate.
Barkov, who broke a bone in his hand Oct. 22, took a number of shots and appeared to take in the full workout.
“I’ve tried to learn watching the games and be ready as soon as possible,” Barkov said. “It’s getting better every day; I can shoot more, shoot harder. I just need to get get into game shape.”
▪ Jaromir Jagr, who had the secondary assist on Huberdeau’s goal, played in his 1,564th NHL game tying him with Nicklas Lidstrom for 10th all time.