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Panthers rally in third, defeat Sabres in shootout

by Alain Poupart
SUNRISE, Fla. — Jonathan Huberdeau listened to some advice from an injured teammate, and it paid immediate dividends.

The Florida Panthers' rookie sensation snapped a nine-game goal drought with a game-tying power-play tally with 6:09 left in regulation, then scored in the shootout as his team rallied to beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-4 on Thursday night at BB&T Center.

Huberdeau's goal was his 13th of the season, tops among NHL rookies.

"I was watching a little bit the stats, but now I decided I'm going to stop watching that," Huberdeau said. "It can go in your head. [Kris] Versteeg told me, just don't watch the stats and it's going to go well. I stopped actually three nights ago and now it went well. So now I've got to stop watching."

Huberdeau, who hadn't scored since March 8 against the Winnipeg Jets, couldn't remember the last time he had gone that long without a goal at any level.

"Probably it was the longest," he said of his drought. "But I don't think about that. As long as we win, I don't care if I don't score for 15 games. We've just got to win."

Huberdeau's goal came in the second round of the shootout and was awarded after the play was reviewed, as the puck barely crossed the goal line. He  scored after Buffalo captain Jason Pominville had given the Sabres a 1-0 lead on the opening attempt of the tiebreaker.

Florida won the shootout in the fourth round when Mike Santorelli beat Ryan Miller with a backhand-to-forehand deke and a high shot. The goal was Santorelli's ninth in 18 career shootout attempts.

"Really? I don't keep track," Santorelli said. "All that matters is that one went in. I saw him poke check there and luckily I was able to go around him."

Thursday marked the second consecutive meeting between the teams that went to a shootout. The Sabres won 4-3 at BB&T Center on Feb. 28, 25 days after the Panthers won 4-3 at Buffalo.

The Panthers improved to 2-1 in shootouts this season, although they're 0-5 in games ending in overtime. Buffalo is now 4-3 in shootouts.

Florida sent the game to OT after squandering a 2-0 lead, then coming back from two one-goal deficits in the third period.

‘We kept pushing and gave ourselves a chance," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "I like the way we played, I think our guys played hard. I thought they were a little bit undeniable tonight. Even though we got down at the end of the second, we were down at times in the third period, I felt like there was a feeling on the bench that, you know what, we owed our fans here at home, we owed ourselves. We didn't want to make it that entertaining, but we'll take it."

Shawn Matthias scored twice in regulation for the Panthers, giving him nine goals in his past 15 games. Matthias has 12 goals on the season, topping his previous career high of 10 accomplished in 79 games last season.

Tomas Fleischmann had the other goal for Florida, which snapped a three-game losing streak and won at home for the first time since March 5. Peter Mueller and Brian Campbell each had two assists.

Florida goalie Jacob Markstrom stopped 36 shots in regulation and overtime, and all four goals against him came off deflections.

"Marky has given us a chance to win every night," Dineen said. "He's settled into this team now, he's comfortable. He looked a little tight early in games this year; now he looks like he's letting his skill and natural talent take over. He was big for us tonight."

Nathan Gerbe, Andrej Sekera, Drew Stafford and Marcus Foligno scored for the Sabres, who were swept on a two-game Florida trip for the fifth time in 28 sets of back-to-back games against the Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. They dropped a 2-1 decision in Tampa on Tuesday.

"Frustrating," Pominville said of the losses. "Tough trip. I think Tampa wasn't a good effort. Tonight was a better effort in the second and we gave ourselves a chance to win a game and we didn't pull through and weren't able to do it in the shootout either. It's obviously really disappointing after our effort in Tampa to lose out on that second point that we probably should have had tonight."

Sekera was back in the lineup Thursday after missing five games with an upper-body injury. Stafford had been a healthy scratch the previous two.

Miller, who was in net for Tuesday's loss against the Lightning, made 36 saves.

Buffalo erased a 2-0 deficit in the second period with three unanswered goals, which matched their output of their previous two games combined. They accomplished this despite playing without leading scorer Thomas Vanek, who's out with an upper-body injury.

"We did throw more [pucks at the net] than we did in Tampa and got rewarded with some bounces, some tips," Pominville said. "Some of them went off their guys and found a way to get in. But you've got to play defense to win games. Defensively we weren't good enough. You're not going to win many games when you give up four."

Along with Vanek, the Sabres also played the last two periods without left wing Ville Leino, who was benched by coach Ron Rolston after being penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct with 40 seconds left in the first period for berating an official.

The Panthers took advantage when Fleischmann scored on the ensuing power play 43 seconds into the second period to give Florida a 2-0 lead.

"We expect more from everybody in that room," Rolston said. "Whether you're a veteran or a rookie, it's about being a team. So he didn't play the rest of the night."

One positive note for Buffalo was the performance of Stafford, who had an assist along with his goal and had five shots.

"He was getting over pucks and he was strong on them in the offensive zone and moved his feet," Rolston said. "He did some good things out there with [Tyler Ennis]. I thought those two guys were pretty good for us out there tonight."

Buffalo led 3-2 before Matthias evened it 5:23 into the third on a play that was set up by his hustle. He poked the puck away from Steve Ott from behind in the Buffalo zone, and Mueller fired a shot that was stopped by Miller before Matthias put home the rebound.

After Foligno scored a power-play goal at 11:33 when he deflected Jordan Leopold's shot from the point past Markstrom, Huberdeau tied it again with a power-play goal when he one-timed Mueller's feed in front of the net past Miller.

"We let up for a bit, but we definitely got together in the third period and battled  extremely hard," Matthias said. "It looked pretty bad for a bit, but we came back and played our hearts out. It's a good win."
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