This time, the Buffalo Sabres refused to play it safe.
Rather than nurse a two-goal margin in the third period as they did Sunday, when a 3-1 lead turned into a 4-3 overtime loss to Nashville, the Sabres went for the kill on Friday -- and got it when Drew Stafford scored 13 seconds after Jordan Leopold's third-period power play goal, helping Buffalo beat the Florida Panthers 4-2 on Friday night.
"That was huge," said Stafford, who finished with a pair of goals and an assist. "We don't want to back down."
Ryan Miller stopped 22 shots as the eighth-place Sabres maintained their three-point lead over the Carolina Hurricanes -- and closed within two points of the seventh-place New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference.
Jason Pominville added a goal and assist in helping Buffalo win back-to-back games for the first time in three weeks.
"Once you get that one goal, the crowd gets into it and the momentum shifts," Pominville said. "And then we got another one off the bat, and the building kind of exploded. It's a fun building to play in when it gets like that."
Despite their win-one, lose-one inconsistencies of late, the Sabres are 10-3-3 in their past 16 games.
Sergei Samsonov and Evgeny Dadonov scored for Florida, which was officially eliminated from the playoffs for a 10th straight season. The Panthers dropped to 3-8-3 in their past 14 games, and are 0-4-1 in their last five on the road.
"It's been hurting for a while," Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said of being eliminated. "You get numb to that pain."
It was little consolation for the Panthers that they finally scored after being shut out in its past two games.
"We played hard, but it's just where we are right now," goalie Tomas Vokoun said. "We just lost to a better team."
The Panthers also avoided a scare after forward David Booth was struck in the throat by a puck in the first period and was taken to a hospital for precautionary reasons. Shortly after the game, the Panthers announced Booth was cleared to join the team for its flight to Pittsburgh, where they play on Sunday.
Booth was hurt with 2:31 left in the first period, when he was struck by Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers' dump-in along the boards.
Stafford broke a 1-1 tie 2:33 into the second period by completing a slick three-way passing play. After gaining the Panthers zone, Stafford fed Tyler Ennis, who then dropped a pass to Brad Boyes. He drove to the left corner before sending a pass in front, where Stafford redirected the puck just inside the far post.
The Sabres then broke the game open midway through the third. Pominville's shot from the blue line was redirected into the net by Leopold at 9:43. The sellout crowd of 18,690 was still buzzing when Stafford made it 4-1 by converting a rebound after Vokoun stopped Ennis' hard shot from the circle.
"It was really important how we responded to the third goal by going out and going after it again," Miller said. "It could be one of those games that gets away from you because you start to get impatient and you start to get lulled to sleep. For the most part we played our game."
Miller was on top of his game. After allowing Sergei Samsonov's goal 4:01 in, Miller stopped 20 shots before allowing Dadonov to score a consolation goal with 3 seconds left.
"Every game is just going to be real tight," coach Lindy Ruff said. "There's going to be times in the game where you're going to have to play real sound defensively. You're going to be stuck in either a one-goal deficit or a one-goal lead, and you've got to make good plays. You've got to make smart decisions. We were able to stay with it and broke it open in the third."
Material from team media and wire services was used in this report
|Jason Pominville (19) Wrist shot - ASST: Thomas Vanek (38), Andrej Sekera (25)|
1 - 0 BUF
|Sergei Samsonov (13) Backhand shot - ASST: NONE|
1 - 1 Tie
|Drew Stafford (27) Deflected shot - ASST: Brad Boyes (33), Tyler Ennis (27)|
2 - 1 BUF
|PPG - Jordan Leopold (13) Tip-in - ASST: Jason Pominville (25), Drew Stafford (17)|
3 - 1 BUF
|Drew Stafford (28) Wrist shot - ASST: Tyler Ennis (28)|
4 - 1 BUF
|Evgenii Dadonov (7) Wrist shot - ASST: Niclas Bergfors (24)|
4 - 2 BUF
|Stephen Weiss Elbowing against Paul Gaustad|
|Nathan Gerbe Tripping against Sergei Samsonov|
|Sergei Samsonov Tripping against Thomas Vanek|
|Mark Mancari Slashing against Sergei Samsonov|
|Mark Mancari Roughing against Keaton Ellerby|
|Keaton Ellerby Roughing against Mark Mancari|