The Panthers watched two goals slide behind Tomas Vokoun Monday evening at BankAtlantic Center that could have been timed with a sand dial. They moved with the speed of paint drying.
But those two goals, along with a strong performance in goal by Ryan Miller, helped the Sabres to a 3-2 victory over the Panthers in a shootout.
The Panthers, unbeaten in regulation in their last eight games (5-0-3), are now three points behind the Sabres in the Eastern Conference and tied with Pittsburgh for the eighth playoff spot with 50 points. The Penguins and Hurricanes, who won Monday and have 49 points, meet Tuesday evening.
The Panthers, 14-5-7 in their last 26 games, have games in hand on the Sabres, Hurricanes and Penguins.
On a night where the Panthers seemed to do everything right, including scoring with only 3:24 remaining in regulation to send the game into overtime, they couldn’t get the extra point in the shootout for the sixth time this season.
Nathan Horton, who scored the tying goal, and David Booth, who scored on a penalty shot in the first period, were both stopped by Miller while Ales Kotalik and Derek Roy both beat Vokoun.
“It’s a tough way to lose a point,” Vokoun said. “At least we didn’t come out empty handed.”
But what about those six additional points the Panthers have lost in shootouts?
“You have to look at it two ways,” said coach Peter DeBoer. “We’re picking up points, but that’s six points in the standings. You put those in the win column and we’re probably sitting fifth in the conference.
“But what are you going to do about it? We can’t practice it any more. We’ve tried different shooters. Both goalies haven’t had much luck at it. Hopefully, the tide will turn somehow for us.”
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Said Booth, who was all over the ice and had a goal, assist and seven shots on the night; “At least we’re coming back. We just have to get to the next level to get those points.”
From the start, the Panthers came out fast and aggressive. Miller made several big stops in the opening 10 minutes, including three on pucks redirected in front of him.
The Panthers hard work was rewarded at 16:29 of the opening period when Booth skated in alone on Miller only to be hauled down by Toni Lydman. For the first time in his career, Booth had a penalty shot.
Booth moved in on Miller, faked a backhand to the right, and then pulled the puck to his left and buried the puck past Miller for his 19th goal of the season.
With a one-goal lead, the Panthers seemed to come out even stronger in the second. But the Sabres’ withstood the onslaught. “We weren’t able to get that second goal in the second period when we seemed to really take the play to them,” said Brett McLean. “Great goaltender.”
“I thought their goaltender through two periods was the difference in the game,” DeBoer said. “I thought we could have been up by two or three. I thought he was outstanding the first 40 minutes and gave them a chance to hang around.”
And it was due to Miller the game slowly turned.
It happened first at 18:03 of the second period when Tim Connolly took a shot that Vokoun stopped. The rebound came bouncing out toward Connolly and Gregory Campbell on the right side of the net. Connolly couldn’t get to the rebound, and Campbell never touched the puck. But the puck slid slowly through the crease, past Vokoun, off defenseman Karlis Skrastins, and ever so slowly into the Panther net.
Tied at one going into the third period, the Sabres took the lead at 4:22 on the power play when Lydman took a shot from the point that bounced off Vokoun. Standing in front of the net, Thomas Vanek took two whacks at the loose puck. The second time was the charm, as the puck slid, once again, slowly past Vokoun and behind a diving Skrastins to give the Sabres a 2-1 lead.
“Two pinball goals,” McLean said.
But for the eighth time this season, the Panthers came from behind to send the game into overtime on a goal from Nathan Horton, who was fed a beautiful, between-the-legs pass from behind the net by Richard Zednik.
Despite a couple big chances in overtime by Booth and Jassen Cullimore, whose shot from the slot was stopped by a stickless Miller, the Panthers couldn’t get the additional point.
“They’re a good team,” said defenseman Keith Ballard of the Sabres. “We had some chances to score and didn’t quite capitalize. But they had a real good goalie. But we’ve been playing well. I think we had a real solid game.”
DeBoer echoed those sentiments.
“I’m very happy with how we played as a team,” he said. “I thought we limited them to a handful of chances. They got a couple bounces around the net and, to their credit, they found a way to get two points.”
The Panthers now must prepare for their final game before the All-Star break – Wednesday at BankAtlantic Center against the Stars.
Forward Ville Peltonen (knee) and defenseman Nick Boynton (flu) did not play…The Panthers are 4-1-3 in their last eight homes games…The line of Booth, Zednik and Horton continue to impress. They had a total of 13 shots…Ballard had six hits, Campbell and Jay Bouwmeester four each…Stephen Weiss won 11 of 16 faceoffs…Bouwmeester played a game-high 29:05…
ARTYUKHIN SUSPENDED FOR HIT ON PELTONEN
The Lightning’s Evgeny Artyukhin, involved in a knee-on-knee hit Saturday with Ville Peltonen, was suspended two games Monday and will forfeit $10,215.06. The forward was scheduled to miss Monday’s game against Dallas and Jan. 21 against the Sabres.
Peltonen, who was playing with a broken bone in his right foot, will be sidelined at least through the All-Star Break, according to DeBoer.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
The San Jose Sharks have recalled 43-year-old right winger Claude Lemieux from their AHL affiliate in Worcester. Lemieux, who has four Stanley Cup rings, has not played an NHL game in five years. He had three goals (11 points) in 23 games in Worcester…Brendan Shanahan scored Monday night in his first game with the Devils
1 - 0 FLA
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 BUF