Panthers jump on top early, shut out Sabres on road
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Told he had again moved up a notch in the record books with his latest shutout in Buffalo, Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo had just one question:
"When do we come back?"
Luongo made 30 saves for his 68th career shutout — and third-straight in Buffalo — to lead the Panthers past the Sabres 2-0 on Friday night.
The shutout moved him past Roy Worters for 13th all-time after he passed Patrick Roy with a win on Oct. 17 in Buffalo.
"I enjoy playing in this building and I’m having success," Luongo said. "Maybe sometimes you get in another team’s head or whatnot, but I just try to do my job and take the wins."
Brad Boyes and Nick Bjugstad scored for Florida, which won for the first time in three games.
No. 1 overall draft pick Aaron Ekblad picked up his 21st assist to tie Ed Jovanovski’s franchise scoring record for rookie defensemen.
Michal Neuvirth made 31 saves for Buffalo, which has lost three in a row.
The Panthers came out of the gate fast, outshooting Buffalo 19-7 in the first period and coaxing Luongo into joking that "I was tweeting" during an inactive first 20 minutes.
"The first period was great," Panthers head coach Gerrard Gallant said. "If we can play like that every period, we’d be real happy."
Florida started the scoring at the 3:29 mark when Sabres defenseman Tyson Strachan missed the puck on a clearing attempt and the Panthers worked the puck to Boyes, who scored alone in front of the net.
The former Sabre has points in five straight games against Buffalo, and has a 6-2 record against his old team since joining Florida.
"Whether we win by playing well or we win by being outplayed, we’re at a point now where we need points — and we won," Boyes said.
With Mike Weber in the box for an interference penalty, Bjugstad made it 2-0 with a power-play goal at 11:51 when he tapped home Jimmy Hayes’ rebound.
The opening period didn’t sit well with Sabres head coach Ted Nolan.
"Our first period was God-awful," Nolan said. "We tried a little bit in the second and got better as the game went, but not enough."
Buffalo started to come around in the second period, putting 11 shots on goal.
Luongo made a left pad save on Tyler Ennis’ shot midway through the second to keep Florida’s two-goal lead.
Patrick Kaleta intercepted a bad clearing attempt in the Florida slot moments later, only for Luongo to push the puck out of play.
"Luongo keeps us in it," Bjugstad said. "They are usually really close, low-scoring games (with Buffalo). Luongo played great tonight and it’s a big shutout for him."
Buffalo’s best chances of an otherwise stagnant third period came with about 6 minutes to play as Luongo used his blocker to stop Zemgus Girgensons’ backhand shot.
Mikhail Grigorenko redirected two point shots at Luongo, but the Panthers netminder turned aside both.
Nolan pulled Neuvirth with just under three minutes to play, and Luongo was quickly tested by Girgensons and Chris Stewart.
Luongo also has shut out the Sabres in four of his last five starts, all wins. He hasn’t allowed a goal in Buffalo since Feb. 11, 2006.
"That’s unbelievable," Gallant said. "He’s played well, he’s focused. And he gets prepared for every game the same way."
Weber’s penalty was the only infraction called in the game until Dave Bolland was called for tripping with 38 seconds to play.
NOTES: With Rasmus Ristolainen back in the lineup, Sabres D Mark Pysyk was sent back to Rochester of the AHL. … Panthers LW Tomas Fleischmann missed the game after suffering an undisclosed injury in the morning skate.