BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Florida Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell is learning to like getting booed in Buffalo.
“When they boo you, it means they miss you, I think,” Campbell said after playing a key role in rallying the Panthers to a 4-3 win over the Sabres on Sunday.
The one-time Sabres star, who spent his first eight NHL seasons playing for Buffalo, capped the Panthers’ three-goal surge by scoring the decisive goal on the power play with 10:33 remaining.
Pinching in from the left point, Campbell was in a perfect position to snap in a loose puck into the open side after Sabres goalie Ryan Miller stopped Tomas Kopecky in front.
“I don’t play very good here a lot of times, I find,” said Campbell, whose goal against Buffalo was his first in seven games since the Sabres traded him to San Jose during the 2007-08 season. “To score a game-winner is great in this building. A lot of good times here.”
And it made for a special homecoming for Campbell, who was picked by the Panthers players to organize the team’s postgame Super Bowl party to be held at a Buffalo restaurant.
“Yeah, this will be a little bit better than sitting there and sulking,” Campbell said.
The Panthers have plenty to feel good about in winning two straight for the first time this season. They avoided opening a season losing four straight on the road for the first time in team history, and also ended a seven-game road winless drought (0-5-2) dating to last season.
Peter Mueller, George Parros and Shawn Matthias also scored for the Panthers (3-5-0).
The mood was much different in the Sabres locker room for a team that’s gone 1-5-1 since opening the season 2-0.
“It’s tough. It’s a team we had right where we wanted them, 3-1, and a lot of chances to make it 4-1,” Thomas Vanek said. “And we give away 2 points.”
Vanek and Cody Hodgson had a goal and two assists each, and Alexander Sulzer also scored for Buffalo. For Vanek, he continued his prolific start to the season in taking over the NHL lead with 19 points (eight goals, 11 assists).
The trouble is the Sabres aren’t getting production from anyone else, which cost them against the Panthers.
Shortly after Sulzer scored to make it 3-1, second-line center Tyler Ennis was stopped by Jose Theodore on a breakaway. Then third-line center Mikhail Grigorenko and second-line winger Marcus Foligno both missed the net after being set up in the slot.
The Panthers responded with Parros and Mueller scoring to tie the game before the second period was over.
Buffalo, playing its third game in four days, ran out of steam in being outscored 3-0 and outshot 18-5 over the final 30 minutes. The Sabres were outshot 33-20 overall, and 13-4 in the third period when the team didn’t get its first shot on net until Jochen Hecht slapped a shot on from the right boards with 8:11 remaining.
Vanek refused to use the team’s lack of rest as an excuse.
“No, I don’t think so,” he said. “Going into the third, no one wanted to make the mistake, and we kind of didn’t do much offensively.”
The Panthers are finally starting to find their offense, having combined for 10 goals in two games after managing just five in their previous five.
It helps that the Panthers are suddenly getting healthier.
Two games after forward Kris Versteeg returned to the lineup, the Panthers got first-line center Stephen Weiss back on Sunday. Weiss, who missed four games with a lower-body injury, had an assist in setting up Parros’ goal.
“We’re building character,” Weiss said. “We’ve strung a couple of wins together, which was nice. But as a team, we’re now 3-5.”
Campbell is starting to see a difference in a team that had lost five in a row after opening the season with a win.
“We battled. We’re starting to come as a team a bit more now and have faith in coming back,” Campbell said. “Earlier in the season, we didn’t have a whole lot of faith and confidence. But now we’re starting to see our team develop.”
NOTES: Vanek has a point in the eight games he’s played after missing one because of a muscle spasm. He’s now had a hand in six of Buffalo’s past seven goals over a six-period stretch, dating to the third period of a 7-4 win at Boston on Thursday. … The Panthers opened a four-game road trip without D Ed Jovanovski and LW Scottie Upshall, who are both out with lower-body injuries. … Parros’ goal was the Panthers’ tough-guy’s first point in nearly a calendar year, dating to a goal he scored at Detroit last Feb. 10.