BUFFALO – Losing never looks good, but for the Panthers, it may be the only way they get any better.
Winning obviously isn't in the franchise's best interest right now as the Panthers should be playing for draft position. With the playoffs long out of reach, Florida should hope to be bad enough to get into position to have some lottery luck in snaring one of the top junior players.
Just don't tell that to coach Pete DeBoer.
“I could give a [expletive] about draft position,'' DeBoer spat after Florida's ugly 6-2 loss to the Sabres at HSBC Arena. The loss was Florida's fourth straight and seventh in nine games.
“We have young players who aren't learning how to win. That's destructive.''
The Sabres, who clinched a playoff spot on Saturday, played like a team trying to wrap up their division as they scored two goals in each of the three periods. Florida actually led 1-0 after Jeff Taffe got his first NHL goal in more than two years.
After that, however, the Sabres scored four unanswered goals including two in a second period in which the Panthers looked lifeless, lost and lethargic. The Panthers failed to get a shot off for the first 11-plus minutes of the second and were outshot 20-2.
The Panthers were outshot 41-15 for the game – and 31-5 in the final two periods.
“When you are standing behind the bench for that, you would like to be anywhere else,'' said DeBoer. “We had a good first period, did a lot of things well. Then the wheels fell off and we have to evaluate why. .-.-. There's no excuse for the last 40 minutes.''
Before the game, DeBoer talked about playing some of his seldom used players a bit more because “we're not in a position where a playoff position is on the line.'' Rookie defenseman Keaton Ellerby, who had been averaging 4:38 of playing time over the past 13 games played 12:12 on Wednesday. Shawn Matthias got 17:37. Nick Tarnasky 12:27.
“That's going to happen at the end of the year and, sad to say, when you don't have a chance to winning the game,'' said Taffe, who came up from the minors on Wednesday afternoon. “It was good to see those guys get some time.''
Florida cut Buffalo's deficit in half early in the third period when Stephen Weiss worked the puck behind the net and passed to Nathan Horton. A slick pass from Horton across the ice found Michael Frolik and he buried the shot for his 19th goal of the season.
The Sabres, who have won seven of eight, got goals from Jason Pominville and Tim Kennedy in the first period, with Nathan Gerbe and Adam Mair scoring in the second. Tyler Ennis and Henrik Tallinder scored within a 33 second span during the third period to make it 6-2.
“It's deflating when you are in this position time and time again,'' Weiss said.
DeBoer had winger Rostislav Olesz working hard during Wednesday's morning skate, running 'suicide' sprints from the dots between the blue lines to the red line dozens of times. At one point, Olesz was resting on the ice when DeBoer skated up to him and chastised him. “You've only been doing this for five minutes,'' he barked.
It appeared Olesz was being bag skated because of his lack of production. Well, not entirely. Olesz injured his hand last week in Toronto and played through the pain. According to Olesz, the hand went numb Monday against Nashville despite taking a shot. “I could only move two fingers,'' Olesz said, showing off the swollen hand.
Olesz didn't play Wednesday and isn't expected to play Thursday in Boston.
“We wouldn't skate him like that before a game,'' DeBoer said of Olesz, who has one assist and no goals in his past 25 games. “There's nothing broken. I would classify it as a pain tolerance thing.''
-- Taffe hadn't scored in the NHL since he did so against the Sabres as a member of the Penguins on March 12, 2008.
-- Winger Steve MacIntyre assisted on Taffe's goal to earn the first assist in his NHL games. MacIntyre has two goals in 39 games – both coming with Edmonton last season.
THURSDAY: PANTHERS AT BRUINS
When, Where: 7 p.m.; TD Garden, Boston
TV/Radio: FSNF; WAXY 790
The series: Panthers lead 29-27-6
The game: The Bruins are clinging to the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and have played erratic in the past month. Last in the league in scoring, the Bs are coming off a 1-0 win over New Jersey on Tuesday. Last month, Boston never had a winning streak of more than two games. Boston went into the Olympic break with four straight wins. The Panthers have lost four straight and seven of nine but Tomas Vokoun beat the Bs 1-0 in Florida's last trip to the Garden.