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Bad News Buffalo ... Panthers Mantra: We played well ... Reality: Good, Not Good Enough ... Playoff Push? Setback More Like It

Not going to get into the whole thing about what happened tonight, anyone who watched or looked at the scoresheet can figure that out. This was a devastating loss for the Panthers, although the wings in the locker room smelled so good a few guys seemed to get over it real quick.

And I've never seen the scratched players escape a postgame locker room as fast as tonight's trio of guys did. And I sure don't blame them.

Speaking of blame, coach Pete DeBoer had plenty for goalie Tomas Vokoun, even though a couple of those goals were flukey. But the one that tied it sure wasn't.

Anyway, big game tomorrow in Philly. Will be interesting to see what happens.

Here's the raw version of my game story tonight. I know it takes a lot of time to get these things on line.

Enjoy.

Or not.

BY GEORGE RICHARDS
[email protected]  

BUFFALO -- It had been a good 10 minutes. Tomas Vokoun had already removed his equipment, showered and put on his dress clothes.

   Yet the Florida goalie still hadn't had enough time to fathom what just
transpired.

   The Panthers have had more than their share of third period meltdowns in their
history, but Wednesday's was one that could be come legendary. Buffalo, a team on
the cusp of being eliminated from the playoff race, gained new life by scoring
four goals in the third period to beat the Panthers 5-3 at HSBC Arena.

   Florida led 3-1 before the Sabres scored three goals within two-plus minutes.

   "We were in control of the game," said Vokoun, his eyes fixed on a nearby
wall. "This is a tough loss for us. I still don't realize what really
happened."

   The Panthers have eight games remaining and are two points out of the final
playoff spot, but this team looks nowhere ready for primetime nor for the glare
of the postseason.

   Instead of driving forward for a postseason berth, Florida is pushing back.
The Panthers have lost eight of their past 10. Buffalo team, which has lost six of eight, pulled
to within three of Florida and five of No. 8 Montreal.

   Both of Buffalo's wins during its spate of mediocrity came against Florida.
The Panthers lost three of four to the Sabres this season.

  "We shouldn't lose that game, not up 3-1," said Nathan Horton. "It's
definitely disappointing, but we're not out of it. We still have games. It's
definitely tough. No one is happy. We play [Thursday] but it doesn't get any
easier. ''

   Sabres coach Lindy Ruff afterward that Florida's character will be questioned.
That's a given, considering the team has coughed up third period leads and
eventually lost in four of its past eight games.

   "We need saves at critical points and we didn't get one tonight," coach Pete
DeBoer said. "That's the bottom line. It's not devastating because we played
well and we played hard. You can't let it be devastating, but your best players
have to be your best and your goalie has to close the door when you're in that
situation. He didn't. I'm the first person to point the finger at myself, but he
has to close the door."

   The Panthers were looking good in the third period, going in up 2-1.

   Florida extended its lead 3:25 into the period when Michael Frolik took a shot
and his stick broke. The soft shot hit goalie Mikael Tellqvist's stick and
bounced out; Florida's Brett McLean was in the middle of it and had a chance to
hit the puck but didn't. Instead the loose puck hit Buffalo's Henrik Tallinder's
glove and over the goalie.

   Frolik was credited with his 19th goal of the season, a goal that may have
been Florida's luckiest of the season.

   The Panthers ended up paying the karma police with interest for that one.

   Moments after Richard Zednik took a puck to the face off a hard slapshot from
teammate Cory Stillman (Zednik returned a few shifts after leaving the ice),
Jason Pominville deftly deflected a shot Tallinder released from just inside the
blue line.

   DeBoer didn't have a problem with that goal, as Pominville twisted his stick
and backhanded the puck past Vokoun. It wasn't as fluky as Frolik's goal, but
close. DeBoer definitely had a problem with the next one.

   Less than a minute later, Clarke MacArthur (who would later fight with Stephen
Weiss during a ice-wide brawl) slid through the Florida defense by getting the
puck past Jay Bouwmeester and beating Karlis Skrastins before unleashing a shot
that went between Vokoun's legs.

   Just 76 seconds later, the Sabres took their first lead of the night when Tim
Connolly's shot deflected off Bouwmeester's stick and past Vokoun.

   "We need a big save at a critical time in the third period to win a game,"
said DeBoer. "I don't think we've gotten it lately. It's that simple."

   Buffalo outshot Florida 21-9 in the third, ending the comeback bid with Maxim
Afinogenov's empty net shot with 31.2 seconds left.

   Just as Afinogenov shot the puck, he was hit by Nathan Horton and Keith
Ballard, setting off a brawl between all involved. The biggest bouts came from
Ballard and Craig Rivet, with Weiss and MacArthur getting some licks in. After
being broken up, Weiss wanted some more, but the refs got in the middle and kept
Round 2 from going.

   The Panthers will need that fighting spirit Thursday night when they play at
Philadelphia. 

   "This is really tough, this is brutal," said McLean, who scored Florida's
first goal. "We're playing the right way. We're still in it, but we've given up
a lot of points this past week which is frustrating. But we have to look
forward."

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"Just as Afinogenov shot the puck, he was hit by Nathan Horton and Keith
Ballard, setting off a brawl between all involved." Just as he shot the puck? The puck was already in the net when he was hit in the head with a cheap shot, and then jumped. It was a dirty play, and worthy of a suspension.

Puck already in the net, sure. But Afinowatever turned right into Horton after the puck went in, it looked more like a reaction move from Horts then intentional. A couple shoves later, and we saw what happened.

Anyways, I've been the biggest Panthers optimist this whole year. I'm still trying. But to hear guys say "we're still in it, we're playing well, we still have a chance" after tonight's game makes me sick. That's awful. That's zero playoff game experience talking. A meltdown like that. A time like this. It's one thing to find the bright spot in a tough loss. It's another to blindly push forward and pretend like you didn't just blow the biggest game of the year. I love this team, but I don't want to hear about your good effort anymore. Win or get pissed off, like you should have been 3 weeks ago when you started blowing these 2 goal, 3rd period leads. Not with 8 games left. Sorry.

Afinogenov turned into Horton? Really? He put his arms up in the air to celebrate the goal and Ballard skated half the ice to hit him after the play was well over. Look at the video highlights on Kukla's Korner; Ballard's barely in the shot when Afinogenov releases the puck. Cheap is cheap, and that was as cheap as it gets.

man... what is happening with this team?

lets face it the core of this team is not going to change after 5 years, this is a team that plays well when there is no pressure (the last few years they played well after being eliminated) this year we were dead last in the league when we turned it around and now back to playing that deer in headlights way of waiting for something bad to happen.

DeBoer has not been around this team long but they are who they are.

Sorry folks but we need to blow this thing up again. The only players I would keep are Ballard, Frolik and Allen, the rest we should get what we can (too late to get anything worthy for Bouwmeester).

We are still paying for bad draft picks (Horton over Staal, Bouwmeester over Nash) etc.

Until this team starts putting money into the infrastructure (scouting and development) then we will be below average as we have been the last 9 years.

DeBoer might think this is a new thing but this is a 9 year thing.

Well, I gotta say, this year was more fun than the last 8 years...but it's still disapointing.

Unfortunately, it appears as though we'll miss the playoffs AGAIN.

Hopefully we'll make it next year!

Just as Afinogenov shot the puck? Afinogenov turned into Horton? What a load of garbage. Horton took a premeditated run at him after the shot was in the net and while Afinogenov had his arms in the air celebrating the goal. It is a sad commentary on the Sabres that they didn't rip Horton apart and that the only retribution was Rivet mopping up the ice with Ballard for a few minutes.

Wonder when Jock martin will fire Debo and put himself byhind the bench to save his own job

First off, it is nice to see DeBoer pointing fingers. I disagree when blaming Vokoun for the last five or so games before the Sabres. The blame for the horrid home stand has to go to the defense, especially that Carolina game.

Now to Season Ticket Holder's comment about rebuilding again. That is just wrong.

Believe it or not, we have a solid core finally inside the organization. And how could you not say keep Booth in your crazy rebuilding scheme? We have good players, but it seems that they have no heart. The team needs a good kick in the rear end, and only DeBoer can do that. Bench one of your bigger players (Bo) and give one of the kids in Rochester a chance. When we had our great run to pull us out of 30th it was on the back of the youngsters from Rochester.

Truthfully, I have given up on this year after last night, but I have not given up on the team. When the off-season comes around and Bouwmeester leaves JM needs to go with him, just for not picking up someone on deadline day. Then, when free agency starts, our new GM can grab a powerplay and shootout specialist and give the team the help we need.

This team is a disgrace... a joke... a waste of talent... It is the same pattern with them every year around this time... They cannot hold 3-1 leads in the last period when it counts and the amazing thing is how fast it usually happens... 3-1 leads in the last period disappear with this team faster than I have ever seen in my life...

Blow it up and start all over again!!!

Trade Vokoun, Horton, etc...

my bad for leaving out Booth, when I say blow it up I mean to get rid of Horton, Weiss, Zednik, Dvorak, McLean, Peltonen, Stewart, Stillman, Tarnasky, Cullimore and Bouwmeester is leaving on his own

This represents more than 1/2 of the team and includes the core of Horton, Weiss and Bouwmeester who they have been building around for 5 years.

As Coach Ruff said the character of this team will be questioned but it is being questioned not just for this year but the last 5 years

And finally JM needs to be shown the door as well, he stunk as a coach and he blew the Bouwmeester situation after being involved in blowing the Luongo situation

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