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The Buffalo Sabres are back in the playoff discussion in the Eastern Conference due to a six-week surge. Their road success in that span should have the Sabres confident about solving the team right behind them in the standings.
Buffalo looks to hand the Florida Panthers a fifth consecutive home loss Thursday night and beat them for the first time in three tries this season.
Two defeats to the Panthers in December were part of a 1-4-0 stretch which dropped the Sabres to 12th in the East, 12 points out of a playoff spot. Since Dec. 27, however, Buffalo has gone 11-4-1 to move up to 10th and within four points of eighth-place Carolina.
The Sabres (25-22-5) have won four of five, including matching their season high for goals in a 7-4 win over Tampa Bay on Tuesday. Drew Stafford recorded his third hat trick of the season, and the Sabres scored five goals in the third period to erase a 3-2 deficit.
Jordan Leopold tied the game at 3 with some help from Stafford, who was ruled to be pushed into Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson as the puck slipped past him.
"I didn't see the goal," Stafford said. "I think we got a lot of momentum after that, though ... the turning point of the game. It was a big one. We'll take it."
Three days earlier, Stafford had two goals and an assist in a 6-2 win over Toronto.
Thomas Vanek had three points in that victory and in Tuesday's win, giving him 22 over the past 15 games.
Vanek has six goals and seven assists during Buffalo's current 7-2-1 run on the road.
The Sabres had won six of seven road games versus Florida before losing 6-2 on Dec. 17 in their only visit this season.
That matchup saw Ryan Miller get pulled for the first time in 33 games - he gave up four goals in the first period - and he was in net for a 4-3 home loss to the Panthers six days later. Miller had been 8-2-0 with a 1.99 goals-against average in his previous 10 starts versus Florida (23-24-6).
The latest meeting began the Panthers' current 21-game stretch that includes 18 decided by one goal. They fell to 7-5-6 in those contests after losing 2-1 to St. Louis on Tuesday.
Florida, three points behind Buffalo, has had six straight decided by a single goal, going 2-3-1.
"It's exhausting on everybody because you're playing 60-plus minutes right to the end," coach Peter DeBoer said. "We've got to find a way to win these one-goal games."
That's been the margin in each of the Panthers' last seven home games and they've lost the last four. They haven't had a longer home losing streak since a six-game skid in 2007-08.
Florida hasn't been giving its goaltender much support. Tomas Vokoun has allowed no more than three goals in eight straight starts but has lost five of them, including defeats in all three in which he's surrendered two or less.
"We just didn't execute well," Vokoun said after making 26 saves Tuesday. "It's hard to score one goal and expect to win."
Vokoun has won both games versus the Sabres this season after going 1-6-1 with a 3.11 GAA in his previous eight against them.