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Pirri scores twice, Panthers top Sabres in Jagr's debut

by Alain Poupart /

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Jaromir Jagr made his debut for the Florida Panthers on Saturday, but it was the return of forward Brandon Pirri and a late goal by Scottie Upshall that made the difference in a 5-3 victory against the Buffalo Sabres at BB&T???Center.

Pirri scored two power-play goals in the second period after missing nine games with an upper-body injury, and Upshall scored the game-winner with 5:58 left in the third period.

The Panthers (27-22-13)???ended a four-game losing streak.

"[Pirri] played well for missing three weeks with a bad injury,"???Upshall said. "He was a big force for us. He was just shooting the puck and shooting it good. For us it was a game we needed to win. Nice to have [Jagr] in there. [Roberto Luongo] made some big saves down the stretch. We found a way to get back in the game for him. It was a must win."

Upshall scored 1:08 after the Sabres tied the game 3-3. He beat goalie Michal Neuvirth with a quick shot to the blocker side after taking a feed from Derek MacKenzie.

"I thought we were on the right side of the puck the whole shift,"???Upshall said. "Just a great heads-up play by [MacKenzie]. I called for it in the high slot and [it's]???one of those you just get it on your stick and you trust in hockey instincts to get a puck off and it ended up being a big goal."

Nick Bjugstad scored for Florida. Jussi Jokinen and Brad Boyes each had three assists, and Brian Campbell, who was playing in his 900th NHL???game, had two assists. MacKenzie scored an empty-net goal with 16.2 seconds left.

It was the first multigoal game for Pirri, who has 11 goals in 29 games this season. Pirri had six goals in nine games before he was injured Feb. 10 against the Anaheim Ducks.

Florida had gone five games without scoring on the power play and had two goals in its past 28 opportunities before Pirri scored twice in a span of 1:23.

"We had a lot of power plays and it's been struggling a lot coming in,"???Pirri said. "I know I've got to be the shooter. For me, it’s just teeing it up. [Campbell] did a great job putting it in my wheelhouse. ... Getting those two, it felt good."

Jagr, acquired Thursday in a trade with the New Jersey Devils, did not get a point but was on the ice for each of Pirri's goals. He played 17:09, had three shots and was a minus-1.

The Panthers surpassed their goal total during their four-game losing streak when they were outscored 15-4.

Luongo made 11 saves and improved to 4-0-0 this season against the Sabres, with his two shutouts this season.

The Panthers went 2-for-6 on the power play and outshot the Sabres 47-14.

"Our discipline just wasn't there tonight,"???Sabres coach Ted Nolan. "This is our eighth game in 14 nights, and they're a big club. We just kind of ran out of gas. I'm just disappointed with our discipline."

Cody Hodgson had a goal and an assist for Buffalo, and Andrej Meszaros and Torrey Mitchell scored.

Buffalo (19-39-5) came in with the fewest points in the NHL???but was 3-1-2 in its past six games.

Buffalo, which came in last in the NHL???in goals, played without its two leading scorers, forwards Tyler Ennis (lower body) and Zemgus Girgensons (lower body).

Neuvirth made 42 saves.

"Michal's been playing great for us,"?????????Nolan said. "He stops the shots he should and some he shouldn't. He gave us a chance."

The Panthers are four points behind the Boston Bruins for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference. The Bruins defeated the Arizona Coyotes 4-1 on Saturday.

Florida continues its season-long seven-game homestand Sunday against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Coach Gerard Gallant said goalie Al Montoya would start.

Despite outshooting Buffalo 21-8, Florida trailed 2-0 before Pirri scored his first goal with two seconds left on a 5-on-3. Pirri scored on a one-timer from the point after Florida won a faceoff in the Buffalo zone.

Buffalo scored twice on its first three shots.

Pirri's second goal was practically identical, except he shot from the right dot instead of the point.

"The power play was moving the puck,"?????????Gallant said. "They had great chances. They could have had 10 goals today. It wasn't about one guy, it was about the unit moving the puck."

Bjugstad gave Florida the lead when he redirected Jokinen's pass across the front of the net. His goal capped a dominant second period for the Panthers, who outscored the Sabres 3-0 and outshot them 19-4.

Hodgson opened the scoring at 2:57 with a one-timer from the left dot before Meszaros beat Luongo with a wrist shot from the top of the left circle that found its way between the Luongo's legs.

The Sabres had chances to make it 3-0 before Pirri scored. Marcus Foligno came in alone on Luongo twice in shorthanded situations; the puck rolled off his stick when he had an open net in the first period. Hodgson had a one-timer from the slot in the first period that Luongo turned back.

"We played a real good hockey game,"?????????Gallant said. "But you fall behind 2-0 like that, it gets a little scary as many chances as we had in that first period with the power play. But we found a way at the end of the day and that’s the main thing, getting the two points."

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