PANTHERS 6, SABRES 2
BY GEORGE RICHARDS
After Wednesday night's colossal meltdown against Carolina, coach Pete DeBoer talked about how important it was for his team to learn how to keep up the offensive pressure and try to bury teams when they get the chance.
Chris Higgins called it “keeping your foot on the gas.''
The Panthers put that hammer down on Friday night, scoring four goals in the opening period and continuing to put pressure on goalie Ryan Miller in a rousing 6-2 win in front of an announced 16,894 at BankAtlantic Center.
Florida snapped its two-game losing skid and got its first home win against the Sabres since Dec. 4, 2008. On Wednesday, the Panthers scored three unanswered goals within the first six minutes against Carolina only to surrender three goals in the third period to lose 4-3.
“You can't play this game or position for long if you dwell on mistakes,'' said goalie Tomas Vokoun, who made 41 saves in the win. “It wasn't easy to forget about Wednesday but we can't let it keep hurting us. The team showed a lot of character, we came out with a lot of heart and stormed out again.''
Said former Florida defenseman Steve Montador: “They did their thing and embarrassed us.''
Against Carolina, the Panthers didn't do much once they took their three goal lead, but that wasn't the case on Friday. Florida was aggressive in the Buffalo zone and had good chances. Florida chased Carolina's Cam Ward – who won the Conn Smythe Award as the 2006 playoff MVP – by scoring twice on five shots on Wednesday.
On Friday, Florida scored four goals off nine shots against the goalie who backstopped Team USA to Silver in Vancouver. In the past two first periods, the Panthers put up six goals off 14 shots against two of the top goalies in the league. Miller was replaced by Patrick Lalime to start the second.
“I think [the last game] almost helped us in a way because we were more determined,'' said Marty Reasoner, who scored twice within a six minute span in the first. His second goal is credited as the game-winner. “We couldn't let down. We responded well. The fourth goal was big for us because it was demoralizing to them. Every time they kind of pushed, we responded well. That's a good sign.''
Leading 4-0, Michael Frolik scored Florida's fifth goal of the night with 1:02 left in the second period to all but assure a Panthers win. Buffalo answered that goal when Derek Roy whipped a shot past Vokoun with just 19 remaining in the second – but this time, the Panthers didn't collapse. Florida took a 6-1 lead early in the third when Chris Higgins picked off a poor clear by Jason Pominville and fed it to Stephen Weiss who buried it from the slot.
“We were emotionally involved and that's how we have to play,'' DeBoer said.
As was the case on Wednesday, the Panthers got off to a rousing start when Bryan McCabe scored on a nifty move by sliding to his left before slinging the puck past Miller 1:40 into the game. Reasoner ended his scoring drought by scoring consecutive goals for a 3-0 lead. David Booth ended the first period onslaught by scoring from the left side with 3:38 left on Florida's first power play opportunity of the night.
For Reasoner, his opening goal was his first since Nov. 20 against the host Islanders. Reasoner had an assist Wednesday against the Hurricanes, but had gone 10 straight games prior to that without a single point.
Reasoner wasn't the only Florida forward with multiple points on Friday as a total of six Panthers had at least two points. Evgeny Dadonov, who got his first NHL goal on Wednesday, had two assists and Frolik had an assist to go with his goal. All told, six Florida players made it onto the score sheet with at least a point.
“We have to learn from our mistakes,'' Weiss said. “In this league, you can't worry about the score. You just have to stick with the plan and do what you do for 60 minutes then see where you are at. You start looking ahead and you get in trouble.
-- Vokoun played in his 600th career game.
-- The Panthers have now scored four goals in a single period three times this season – and twice during the first on home ice. Florida scored four in the opening period during its home opener against Tampa Bay on Oct. 16 and also scored four in the second period of the win against the Islanders in November.
-- Dmitry Kulikov was back in the lineup on Friday after being benched Wednesday against Carolina. Keaton Ellerby, Florida's seventh defenseman, remains with the team for the time being although he could be sent back to the Panthers AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., on Saturday.
Weiss missed practice on Thursday with an undisclosed ailment, but skated Friday morning and was in the lineup against the Sabres. Had Weiss been forced to sit out, DeBoer said he planned to dress all seven defensemen.