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Desperate Sabres host slumping Panthers

by Tal Pinchevsky

PANTHERS (29-35-10) at SABRES (36-28-9)


Last 10:
Florida 3-4-3; Buffalo 6-3-1

Season series: This is their fourth and final meeting this season, with Florida holding a 2-0-1 advantage. After two losses to the Panthers the week before Christmas, Buffalo finally beat the Panthers on Feb. 10 when Tyler Myers' overtime blast eluded Tomas Vokoun, giving the Sabres a 3-2 win.

Big story: The Sabres come into the weekend with a three-point lead over ninth-place Carolina in the race for the last playoff spot in the East. Florida is two losses away from officially missing the playoffs for the 10th straight season, the longest playoff drought in the League.

Team scope:

Panthers: The Panthers are riding a three-game losing streak that has seen them go without a goal in more than 131 minutes. After starting their current five-game road swing with a 1-0 loss to the Rangers on Tuesday, the Panthers trailed 1-0 on Wednesday heading into the third period in Chicago. But the Blackhawks scored three third-period goals to turn a one-goal game into a 4-0 loss.

"I know people look at the end result, but I thought we had a much better effort tonight than we did against the Rangers," Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said after the loss in Chicago. "We played hard tonight."

Sabres: Despite alternating wins and losses in their last nine games, Buffalo still occupies the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. But with both Carolina and Toronto within striking distance in the standings, the Sabres are hoping for consistency as they prepare for back-to-back home games against Florida and New Jersey on back-to-back nights. After that, they will play both the Hurricanes and the 10th-place Toronto Maple Leafs on the road in the season's final stretch.

On Tuesday, Nathan Gerbe's second-period goal was all the Sabres needed against the Canadiens, as Ryan Miller made 31 saves in a 2-0 win to earn his 21st career shutout. Gerbe also scored into an empty net for his second career multi-goal game.

"We've got to get the points at all times," Miller said. "There are a lot of three-point games out there so you just have to scrape and battle, and tonight was one of those games and we're happy to get out of here."

Who's hot:
Despite the scoreless streak, the Panthers' Sergei Samsonov has 6 points in his last five games. … Gerbe and Myers both haves 5 points in three-game point streaks.

Injury report:
For the Panthers, top scorer Stephen Weiss and goalie Scott Clemmensen are questionable with lower-body injuries -- Weiss has misses the last two games. Byron Bitz (hernia surgery) and Rostislav Olesz (knee) are on IR. … Sabres forward Derek Roy will miss the remainder of the season following left quad surgery, Patrick Lalime and Patrick Kaleta are out with lower-body injuries and Jochen Hecht and Steve Montador are questionable for Friday.

Stat pack:
Drew Stafford leads the Sabres with 26 goals while Thomas Vanek is right behind him with 25. If the current statistics hold, it will be the first time Vanek hasn't led the club in goals since the 2005-06 season, Vanek's rookie year. Vanek is three goals away from 200 for his career.

Puck drop: When Clemmensen went down before the morning skate in New York, the Panthers didn't have to look far for a last-minute replacement. Marty Reasoner's brother, Adam, practiced with the team while call-up Tyler Plante made his way to the team. The former Boston College goalie works in New York's Financial District and made it to the rink 30 minutes after receiving a phone call from his brother.

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