BUFFALO – Nick Bjugstad's goal at 16:12 of the second period proved to be the game-winner and the Florida Panthers earned a 4-3 win against the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center on Tuesday night.
Bjugstad came up the left wing side before sending a wrist shot over Sabres goalie Ryan Miller's shoulder from inside the faceoff circle for his 11th goal of the season. The win was the Panthers' second in as many days.
"You want to keep things going, I kind of think that's been our motto moving forward here," Panthers captain Ed Jovanovski said. "That's what we want to do. We knew it wasn't going to be an easy night. We made things a little interesting there towards the end, but our PK came up huge for us."
The Panthers ran into penalty trouble late in the third period. With 6:42 left to play, Brad Boyes was called for a high-sticking double-minor. Florida already had Jovanovski in the box for hooking and Buffalo had Linus Omark off for interference. The Panthers' penalty kill came up big, killing off 1:29 of 4-on-3 power-play time with Jovanovski in the box as well as the remainder of Boyes' penalty.
"Their effort there at the end blocking shots is what they have to do," Panthers interim coach Peter Horachek said. "It's a tough situation having the extra man down like that. They came through. They battled, they blocked shots, they did what they had to do. It was good to get the points, it wasn't pretty."
The Panthers' win gave them four out of a possible six points on the three-game road trip. They return home to face the Colorado Avalanche on Friday.
"Any time winning two out of three you're liking your chances," Panthers forward Jesse Winchester said. "If we can keep doing that, we'll be all right."
The Sabres jumped out to an early lead on the power play when Drew Stafford scored 2:23 into the first period. Stafford put a wrist shot in the slot past Panthers goalie Tim Thomas after a quick pass from Steve Ott.
The Sabres' power play goal snapped a streak of 26 straight penalty kills by the Panthers.
"We're going to give up goals every once in a while, you've just got to limit them," Winchester said. "Especially in the third, we're tired and battling and guys stood up and held the fort and then Timmy [Thomas], obviously, nobody bigger than him back there. We owe a lot of the credit at the end to him, but we're happy to come away with the two points."
Thomas made 32 saves including a breakaway stop against Sabres forward Cody Hodgson 2:07 into the third period.
"As the game wore on, I got myself in a good spot to where I wasn't overthinking things," Thomas said. "So I wasn't even thinking about it too much. Breakaway? OK, save it. 2-on-1? OK, do the best I can to save it. I took that attitude based on the start of the game where it was kind of crazy and Stafford beat me with a couple of shots. Instead of bearing down as a response as you can do sometimes, I actually just decided to relax a little bit."
Florida tied it up when Winchester tipped a shot by Jovanovski and past Miller. Winchester's sixth goal of the season came at 4:06 of the first.
"I think our goal right now is to get everything at the net and try to get those dirty goals down in the paint," Jovanovski said. "We happened to be in that area tonight with the tip in the first one. It was nice to see."
Stafford struck again at 6:16 of the first when he fired a wrist shot past Thomas to make it 2-1. The Sabres got the play going when Mike Weber put a big hit on Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau along the boards to free the puck to Tyler Ennis, who passed off to Stafford for the goal. Stafford's goals were his sixth and seventh of the season.
"You have to keep at it," Stafford said. "I feel like I've been getting there, I've been getting shots. I had my shots. It hasn't been going for me. But you can't stop doing things that work, and doing things that work are hanging around the net."
The Panthers stormed back in the closing minutes of the first period when Sean Bergenheim and Jovanovski scored to give them a 3-2 lead. Jovanovski finished with two points.
Bergenheim tipped a blue line shot from Tom Gilbert for his 11th goal of the season with 1:56 to play and Jovanovski ripped a slap shot by Miller for his first of the season 56 seconds later.
"I was just kind of getting a shot to the net and got lucky," Jovanovski said. "I believe it hit off a guy and beat Miller."
Bjugstad's goal made it 4-2 late in the second period.
Steve Ott cut the Panthers lead to 4-3 8:46 into the third period with a power-play goal. With Winchester in the box for slashing, Ott scored his sixth goal of the season and 100th in his career after he put a loose puck in the slot past Thomas.
"If I was a kid and you asked me if I'd ever score 100 goals in the NHL, I would've taken it and been pretty proud," Ott said.
Thomas stopped 32 shots; Miller made 18 saves.
"It wasn't one of my better games," Miller said. "I don't think it was a clean game, a little sloppy on my part in a few of those situations. That's the way it goes over a course of a season. The first period didn't do me any favors, so it looks pretty ugly."
Panthers rookie forward Aleksander Barkov left the game with a lower-body injury after the first period and did not return. He played 5:31 and had an assist on Bergenheim's goal.
"I have no idea, other than they just said it would be safer right now just to make sure," Horachek said. "He probably could've gone back out. As far as I know there's nothing long-term or anything like that, all we wanted to do is make sure we're very careful with him."