The Florida Panthers welcome forward Kris Versteeg and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov back to the ice after injury setbacks. Versteeg has sat the last nine games, Kulikov has missed the past 23.
The Panthers host the Buffalo Sabres tonight at the Bank Atlantic Center in Sunrise. This is the fourth and final meeting between the two teams this season. Florida has posted a 1-1-1 record against the Sabres this season, getting shut out at home, 3-0 in October, winning on the road, 3-2 later that month, and dropping a road matchup, 2-1 in an overtime game in December.
They are closing out an important four game homestand. So far, they've gone a perfect 3-0, beating the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-0 on Sunday, the Toronto Maple Leafs, 5-2 on Tuesday, and the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins, 6-2 on Thursday.
The Sabres have been hot lately, going 9-2-2 through their last 13 games. They start a short two-game Florida road trip tonight, going on to face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday. Florida is 19-9-8 at home, the Sabres have a 15-18-1 road record. This will be the Panther's 17th attempt to convert a three game winning streak into a four game winning streak since March 16th, 2008, having gone a combined 0-11-5 in their last 16 games attempts. They have had 13 losing streaks of four games or more over that time.
The last time the Panthers squared off with the Sabres was on December 9th. Derek Roy (7) opened the scoring for the Sabres in the first, and Jason Garrison (9) answered with a power play marker in the second. After a scoreless third, Jason Pominville ended it two minutes into overtime with his 10th goal of the season. Ryan Miller stopped 22-of-23 Florida shots for the victory, while Scott Clemmensen allowed both goals on only 20 Buffalo shots. Clemmensen was optimistic about the game afterward,
"Not everything is going to be perfect," Clemmensen said. "We got a point, so we need to look at the bright side."
Panthers @ Sabres 12/09/11 (via NHLVideo)
Florida dropped the Boston Bruins, 6-2 on Thursday in a South Florida matchup. 11 Panthers got onto the scoresheet, featuring three assists by Brian Campbell, a goal and an assist by both Stephen Weiss (17) and Mikael Samuelsson (10), and John Madden's (1) first goal in nearly a year. Marcel Goc (10), Tomas Kopecky (8) and Wojtek Wolski (3) also scored for the Panthers. Brian Rolston (5) and Joe Corvo (4) lit the lamp for the slumping Bruins. Tim Thomas allowed all six goals on 29 Florida shots to take the loss, while Jose Theodore turned in another quality start for the Panthers, stopping 24-of-26 shots. Weiss talked afterward about how the Northeast Division really isn't that much better than the Southeast,
"It's realistic now that we can catch some teams," Weiss said. "We've got to stop looking behind and start looking forward and push ourselves that way. It makes it easier, too, when you're looking ahead instead of always looking back to who's chasing you."
Bruins @ Panthers 03/15/12 (via NHLVideo)
The Sabres earned one point but lost the second to the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday, losing 5-4 in a shootout after Jamie McGinn scored a goal with two seconds remaining in the third. Marcus Foligno (2, 3) scored twice for the Sabres, Drew Stafford (14) notched a shorthanded goal, and Alexander Sulzer (1) potted his first marker of the season. Jamie McGinn (18, 19), David Jones (17), and Gabriel Landeskog (20) provided regulation goals for the Av's. Peter Mueller made the only goal in the shootout for the Colorado victory. Semyon Varlamov stopped 20-of-24 in the win, Ryan Miller stopped 38-of-42 for the loss. Mueller talked about the victory later,
"This is the biggest win of the year," Mueller said. "To go from zero points to getting two with seconds left, you don't make that stuff up. It just shows the character of this team in that we never quit."
Avalanche @ Sabres 03/14/12 (via NHLVideo)
Florida Panthers: 34-23-13, 81 points, first Southeast Division, third Eastern Conference, 13th NHL, on pace for 95 points. Last five games: L-O-W-W-W. Playoff odds: 94%
Buffalo Sabres: 33-29-9, 75 points, third Northeast Division, 10th Eastern Conference, 21st NHL, on pace for 87 points. Last five games: W-L-W-W-O. Playoff odds: 9.3%