BUFFALO, N.Y. – The boos rained down on Brian Campbell as the Florida Panthers defenseman scored a power-play goal to give his team a 4-3 lead against the Buffalo Sabres in the third period Sunday afternoon. The Panthers hung onto the lead and came away with their first road win of the season at First Niagara Center.
Florida rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the second period to pick up its first points on the road this season. Panthers forward Peter Mueller scored a goal in his fourth straight game and wing Tomas Kopecky picked up a pair of assists.
Campbell spent parts of eight seasons in Buffalo and was well known for quarterbacking the Sabres' power play. He earned his fourth goal of the 2012-13 season when he crept in from the left point to wrist a shot over Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller with 10:33 left in the third period for the game winner. Kopecky slid a pass across the goal crease to Campbell, who then put it past Miller and diving defenseman Alexander Sulzer. Then came the boos.
"When they boo you, it means they miss you, I think. That's what I take it as," said Campbell, who played in Buffalo from 2000-08. "You try to take it as a positive if that's the case, but they're great fans."
Florida scored four unanswered goals in the third period of their win over the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday. Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said that he'd like to see some more stability from his team moving forward.
"That's a character you don't want to have to test every time we play. I think you want to be able to play a more stable game," Dineen said. "I think our game right now is still kind of up-and-down emotionally."
The Panthers opened up a four-game road trip while Sabres looked to shake off a 6-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday. Florida straddled Buffalo with its fifth loss in seven games. The Sabres have earned three points during that stretch and sit at the bottom of the Northeast Division standings. Buffalo also played its third game in four days.
"I don't think the spirit was broken, I think we played a lot of hockey in the last four days," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "I think some of our top guys, when the shift got long they didn't have much left. It hurts, but you have to pick yourself up."
Forwards Thomas Vanek and Cody Hodgson each scored a goal and recorded two assists for the Sabres. Vanek has eight goals and a League-leading 19 points in eight games played this season. The game was also Vanek's fourth multi-point game of the season. In his 100th NHL game, Hodgson registered his 12th career multi-point game and he matched a career-high with three points.
Panthers goaltender Jose Theodore made 17 saves and Miller stopped 29 of 33 shots.
Vanek opened the scoring 2:46 into the game. Pominville collected a rebound in front of the net and, with his back to Vanek, fed his linemate a no-look pass from between his legs. Vanek made no mistake as he beat Theodore with a one-timer.
Pominville's assist on the goal tied him with Mike Foligno for 10th-most assists (264) in Sabres history (264) and with Alexander Mogilny for 12th-most points (444) in franchise history.
The Sabres have relied on the Vanek-Hodgson-Pominville line for virtually all of its scoring this season and Ruff said that other lines need to start contributing.
"That line has played really well," Ruff said. "They've got great chemistry and played well, made great plays, but we do need other people to get on the scoreboard."
Florida tied the game at the 8:36 mark of the first period. Panthers center Jerred Smithson won a face off against Sabres center Tyler Ennis to the right of Miller. The puck went straight back to forward Shawn Matthias and in the blink of eye, Matthias cashed in on a slap shot from 41 feet away. The goal was the first of the season for Matthias.
"He got it off pretty quick," Miller said. "The idea is to pick up somebody and I probably need a little bit better jump, but it just happened."
Heading into the game, the Sabres ranked last in the League in face-off win percentage (42.5 percent). The Panthers were fourth. On Sunday, Florida won 35 of 61 draws (57 percent).
Hodgson gave Buffalo a 2-1 lead with 6:19 left in the first period. Vanek stole the puck away from Panthers defenseman Mike Weaver to the right of Theodore. Vanek stickhandled his way to the goal line and threaded a pass to the front of the net. Hodgson beat Kopecky to the pass and tapped the puck in for his fifth goal of the season.
The Sabres gained a two-goal edge 3:49 into the second period. Sulzer ripped a one-time shot from the blue line past Theodore. Vanek and Hodgson picked up the assists. Sulzer has two goals in his last three games.
Florida came back within one goal midway through the second period on a goal by Parros to begin the rally. Sulzer turned the puck over to forward Tyson Strachan at the blue line and it was gathered up by Florida center Stephen Weiss. Sulzer chased Weiss down the right wing and Weiss carried the puck into the Buffalo zone. Weiss then dropped a pass back to a trailing Parros. From between the face off circles, Parros took the puck to his forehand and put it behind Miller.
"We battled," Campbell said. "We're starting to come as a team a bit more now and have faith in coming back. Early in the season, we didn't have a whole lot of faith and confidence, but you're starting to see our team develop."
Parros hadn't scored since Feb. 10, 2012 against the Detroit Red Wings when he was with the Anaheim Ducks. He also hadn't registered a point since that game. He described his feelings after scoring the goal as "elation."
"It doesn't happen that often, so it's obviously a good feeling," Parros said. "If it happens in a game that's tight then it's even more important."
Panthers forward Peter Mueller tied the game, 4-4, with 54 seconds left in the second period. On a dump in, the puck came straight in off the end boards and right out to Panthers forward Drew Shore. On the forecheck, Shore put a shot on net that Miller kicked right to Mueller.
"I was just fortunate enough that it was on my stick at the time and that it just went in," Mueller said. "I'm happy to get the goal, but [happier] to get the win."
With the Panthers road trip moving on to Winnipeg on Tuesday, Dineen said earning the first road win of the year is a weight off the team's shoulders.
"It's nice to get that off and there's always little milestones over the course of a year," Dineen said. "We want to consider ourselves a good road team. I think that's always a measuring stick as a coach and we needed that one tonight."
Sunday marked Panthers defenseman Filip Kuba's 800th career NHL game.
Weiss returned to the Florida lineup after missing the team's last four games with a lower-body injury. The Panthers scratched forward Jack Skille.
|Thomas Vanek (8) ASST: Jason Pominville (8), Cody Hodgson (3)|
1 - 0 BUF
|Shawn Matthias (1) ASST: Jerred Smithson (1)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Cody Hodgson (5) ASST: Thomas Vanek (10)|
2 - 1 BUF
|Alexander Sulzer (2) ASST: Thomas Vanek (11), Cody Hodgson (4)|
3 - 1 BUF
|George Parros (1) ASST: Stephen Weiss (2)|
3 - 2 BUF
|Peter Mueller (4) ASST: Drew Shore (1), Tomas Kopecky (3)|
3 - 3 Tie
|PPG - Brian Campbell (4) ASST: Tomas Kopecky (4), Jonathan Huberdeau (3)|
4 - 3 FLA
|Cody McCormick Fighting against Tyson Strachan|
|Tyson Strachan Fighting against Cody McCormick|
|John Scott Fighting against George Parros|
|George Parros Fighting against John Scott|
|Dmitry Kulikov Tripping against Jason Pominville|
|Christian Ehrhoff Hooking against Jonathan Huberdeau|
|Marcus Foligno Slashing against Mike Weaver|
|Christian Ehrhoff Hooking against Shawn Matthias|