By the third period, the only reason most folks stuck around First Niagara Center was to see if there would be a Round 3.
The Panthers had a commanding lead on the Buffalo Sabres in an eventual 7-4 win, yet the hometown team did win something: The Sabres won the Tuesday Night Fights.
Evander Kane and Alex Petrovic squared off three times Tuesday, with the Buffalo winger getting the better of the Florida defenseman in each bout.
After winning the second meet in the second, Kane put up two fingers on one hand, a zero on the other. He didn’t put up a 3-0 after the third-period bout — one after which both players were ejected — but didn’t need to.
Although Kane went off the ice to a sea of high-fives, Petrovic earned the Panthers’ prized “Spacey In Space” sweatshirt.
Along with the victory and two more points for the division leading Panthers, Petrovic was all smiles.
“I didn’t think I was coming in here to have three fights but that’s how it goes,” Petrovic said. “I got a goal, got an assist, got the Gordie Howe Hat Trick. So, I’m pretty happy with my effort.”
Said coach Gerard Gallant: “He had a great game; the goal, assist and not just the one fight but three. He was plus-4. Look at that stat sheet. What a great night.”
The Panthers were obviously frustrated after Monday’s 3-0 shutout in Detroit and came out flying, knocking out starting goalie Robin Lehner when Petrovic scored 22 seconds into the second period to make it 4-0.
“We were frustrated and played an OK game [Monday] but didn’t have the hunger in the offensive zone,” Jussi Jokinen said. “We wanted a bounce-back game and I think we got it.”
Florida took a 3-0 lead into the first break as Reilly Smith, Brian Campbell and Jokinen all scored.
Buffalo closed to 4-2 but got no closer as Brandon Pirri, moved to center with Sasha Barkov out with what is thought to be a slight concussion, scored moments after a big Roberto Luongo save to open things up again.
“Nothing is safe in this league and they came back with a push,” Smith said. “Luckily enough, Luongo made some big saves and blocked the puck.”
Florida later got a goal from Jaromir Jagr — he’s two behind Brett Hull for third all-time — and an empty-netter from Smith to end it.
“Everyone was skating, it didn’t look like we played [Monday],” Jagr said. “We took the lead and were skating very well. It kind of surprised me. We should have been tired and we weren’t. It’s a good sign.”
▪ Barkov was sent back to South Florida after being knocked out of Monday’s game by Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader.
As part of the NHL’s concussion protocol, Barkov was automatically out of Tuesday’s game and is expected to miss Friday against St. Louis as well.
One member of the Panthers’ front office said Barkov was sent back only because he wasn’t playing Tuesday and isn’t scheduled for any more neurological tests. The Panthers hope to have Barkov back Saturday against Nashville.
As for Abdelkader, not only did he not get a penalty for the hit on Barkov but he won’t face any supplemental discipline from the league either.
With no hearing scheduled, Abdelkader is expected to be in the Wings’ lineup Wednesday against Ottawa.
“That’s our best player and my good friend so maybe I’m looking at the situation differently,” said Jussi Jokinen, who has had a beef with Abdelkader since last week.
“But in talking to others around the league, it was a dangerous hit. He needs to be suspended. ... After seeing the replays, the league needs to do a better job.”
Said Shawn Thornton: “My understanding of the rule is, if a player is vulnerable, it’s the player’s obligation to not throw that hit. He did.”
▪ Kane and Petrovic became the first players to fight three times in the same game since Bob Probert and Jody Shelley went at it during a Chicago-Columbus game in 2002.
▪ Florida’s seven goals matches a season high set in the opening night 7-1 win over the visiting Flyers.
▪ With Barkov out, the Panthers recalled Garrett Wilson from their AHL team in Portland, Maine. Wilson was in the lineup Tuesday on the fourth line with Derek MacKenzie and Thornton.
Rookie Corban Knight was scratched. To make room for Wilson, Erik Gudbranson was placed on injured reserve. Gudbranson is eligible to return Friday against St. Louis.