The Buffalo Sabres finally sent their fans home happy.
The Sabres have struggled to win at the First Niagara Center this season, but Jason Pominville's breakaway goal 2:19 into overtime gave Buffalo a 2-1 victory against Florida on Friday night for just its second win in its last eight home games.
Jordan Leopold freed up the puck deep in his own zone and fed Paul Szczechura, whose pass found Pominville breaking past the defense at Florida's blue line. Pominville went in alone and beat Scott Clemmensen through the five-hole for his 10th goal of the season.
"[Szczechura] made a great pass," Pominville said after the Sabres ended a three-game home losing streak. "I was just in alone and I was able to find a hole. It was nice to get a win at home, and to win in overtime was even sweeter.
"It wasn't a pretty one, but we got it done against a team that's been going really well."
The overtime point was the 37th of the season for the Panthers (16-8-5), tying them with Philadelphia for the most in the Eastern Conference. Florida is 3-0-1 in its last four games and off to its best start since 1999.
"It was disappointing we lost, but the disappointment we feel is positive," said Clemmensen, who started for the third time in four games and finished with 18 saves. "We had won three games in a row so it was a good point. You knew it was the type of game that one little thing was going to make a big difference."
The Sabres improved to 15-11-2, but they are just 6-8-2 in their own building.
"We have to do better at home. We know it," Pominville said. "It's nice to get a win for the fans. Obviously, at times they've been on us a little bit. We feel the heat where we've got to be better at home. If you want to be successful, you've got to win games at home. To pull one off against a really good team in our conference is nothing but positive, and hopefully we can build off the effort."
Buffalo grabbed the lead at 17:50 of the first period on a breakaway goal by Derek Roy. Drew Stafford spring Roy with a pass though the defense, and Roy shifted from backhand to forehand before zipping a quick wrister past Clemmensen on a night when neither team was willing to take many chances.
"I'm glad we stuck with our system," said Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller, who had to make only 22 saves. "We had a tired team who was going to sit there and trap us up all night and wait for us to make mistakes, I thought we did a great job of eliminating unnecessary turnovers, odd-man rushes. We got the puck deep. It didn't amount to a lot of chances for either team, but sometimes that's how you have to do it."
The Panthers, limited to five shots on Miller in the opening period, got on the board late in the second by taking advantage of the Sabres' penalty troubles. Christian Ehrhoff was called for roughing at 15:24 and Jochen Hecht was sent off for holding just 10 seconds later. Florida needed only 14 seconds of the 5-on-3 advantage to capitalize when Jason Garrison blasted a slap shot from beyond the left circle past Miller. It was Garrison's ninth of the season, the most among NHL defensemen, and his fifth on the power play.
Neither team scored in the third period, so despite Pominville's goal the Panthers headed for New York and a Sunday date with the Rangers with three points in back-to-back road games -- they won 2-0 in Boston on Thursday thanks to a 40-save effort by Jose Theodore.
"Not everything is going to be perfect," Clemmensen said. "We got a point, so we need to look at the bright side."
The only bad news for the Sabres as they prepare to host the Rangers on Saturday was that the injury bug won't go away. Leopold and forward Cody McCormick both returned from injuries, but forward Corey Tropp left in the first period and didn't return after absorbing an open-ice hit by Florida defenseman Dmitry Kulikov. The Sabres said Tropp sustained an upper-body injury. Hecht also left with an undisclosed injury.
"We had to hunker down and make sure we didn't make any big mistakes and give them easy opportunities," Ruff said about playing two men short on a bench that's laden with minor-league call-ups. "We're asking a lot of guys to do a lot of different things."