Preview: Panthers developing sense of urgency as Sabres come to town
TV: FOX Sports Florida
TIME: Pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m.
On Friday night, the Panthers will host the Sabres (17-7-2), who had won 10 straight games until losing an epic 5-4 battle at the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night.
The Panthers (9-10-4), meanwhile, are nearly halfway through a crucial eight-game home stretch. They are 1-1-1 so far and have given up some painful goals late in games.
On Saturday night, the Panthers appeared to have a win over the Chicago Blackhawks. However, Chicago scored with just 1.8 seconds left in regulation and then got the overtime goal to stun the Panthers.
Then, on Wednesday, the Panthers lost 3-2 to the Anaheim Ducks, allowing the deciding goal with 1:28 left in the third period.
“We’ve had a couple of tough bounces,” Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle said. “Those things come and go in waves. We just have to continue to stay in our system, and it will work itself out.”
But the Panthers, who are tied for last in the 16-team Eastern Conference with 22 points, must feel a sense of urgency now that they have played roughly one-fourth of their season (23 games out of 82).
Indeed, Panthers winger Jonathan Huberdeau said that giving up the late goal to the Ducks left a bitter taste.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “We battled a full 60 … It’s tough.”
Things have been much happier for the Sabres, who had won seven of the 10 games in their streak in overtime. The Sabres finished last season with the worst record in the NHL but have found the winning formula so far this time around.
The Sabres were so bad last season that they trailed the Panthers by 34 points in the standings … and the Panthers didn’t even make the playoffs.
This season, the Sabres are fourth in the latest NHL power rankings put out by ESPN.com and also by CBS. The Panthers are 26th in the ESPN rankings and 21st by CBS.
One of the keys for the Sabres is Rasmus Dahlin, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft who leads the league’s rookie defensemen with 13 points, including 11 assists.
“We want to change this together,” Dahlin said of Buffalo’s transformation, so far at least, from last-place club to legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
Dahlin had been on the ice for a team-best 12 goals during the just-concluded 10-game win streak.
But it’s not just Dahlin. Goalie Carter Hutton had won eight consecutive games until losing on Thursday, the penalty kill has been outstanding, left winger Jeff Skinner leads the team with 19 goals, and center Jack Eichel tops the Sabres with 25 assists.
On Friday night, on short rest, the Sabres will look to start a new streak … against a desperate Panthers team.