SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau had plenty of chances Saturday night and gave Panthers fans a good look at what they missed for most of the season.
Huberdeau scored twice and James Reimer made 30 saves to help Florida beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-0 in the Panthers’ home finale.
Huberdeau missed 51 games this season after having his Achilles tendon cut in a preseason game against the New Jersey Devils at West Point.
“In junior (hockey) probably,” replied Huberdeau when asked when was the last time he had so many good scoring chances. “It’s true, we were having a lot of chances tonight.”
Huberdeau scored his ninth goal on the power play at 17:03 of the second period after the Sabres — the top club on the man-advantage — failed to score on a pair of power plays earlier in the period.
Jonathan Marchessault started the goal by bringing the puck into the offensive zone and making a slick inside move toward goalie Robin Lehner and past defenseman Justin Falk, but Marchessault’s shot was stopped, then Jaromir Jagr put a rebound shot on goal, which fell behind Lehner.
Huberdeau slipped in behind the goalie and backhanded the puck while inside the net just before the goal came off its moorings for a 2-0 lead.
“It was strange, but it was a good bounce. We haven’t had a lot of good bounces like that this year,” Huberdeau said.
He added his second goal of the game when his blind backhanded shot to the right of Lehner banked in off the skate of defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen at 5:55 of the third period.
“We were playing well, skating and that’s what happens. That’s why we had chances,” said Huberdeau.
Florida interim head coach Tom Rowe said the Panthers’ future is bright with a healthy Huberdeau, the 2013 Calder winner for the NHL’s top rookie.
“He’s going to be an unbelievable player for an awful long time,” Rowe said. “The way he can handle the puck and defend guys off who are trying to check him is real impressive.
“Next year the fans will have a lot to look forward to.”
Nick Bjugstad also scored, and Jaromir Jagr had two assists for Florida. The shutout was the second this season for Reimer, who also blanked the Chicago Blackhawks in a 7-0 home victory two weeks ago.
Robin Lehner had 34 saves for the Sabres.
Buffalo coach Dan Bylsma said the game lacked a physical presence.
“I never put a lot of stock in the hits on the sheet here. I think (Josh Gorges) had a hit and (Nicolas Deslauriers) had a hit,” Bylsma said. “I don’t know if there was a lot of other contact from either team out there.”
NOTES: The Sabres started their league-high 19th set of back-to-back games. The Sabres are 8-8-3 in the first game and 6-11-1 in the second game this season. … Buffalo scratched LWs William Carrier, C.J. Smith and Marcus Foligno, plus Ds Cody Franson and Taylor Fedun, and G Anders Nilsson. … C Sean Malone made his NHL debut for Buffalo after ending his career at Harvard. … Florida LW Shawn Thornton played in his final NHL game. Thornton, 39, is the only player in the league’s post-expansion era to play in over 700 NHL games and 600 AHL games – 705 and 605, respectively. The two-time Stanley Cup champion will take a position within the Florida organization. Thornton will not play on Sunday against Washington. … C Michael Sgarbossa (lower body) was injured in the second period and did not return. … Florida scratched Ds Aaron Ekblad, Jakub Kindl and Jason Demers, plus Fs Aleksander Barkov and Jussi Jokinen, and G Roberto Luongo.