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Sabres defeat Panthers in shootout

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Maybe the Buffalo Sabres are starting to play better under interim coach Ron Rolston. Or maybe it was simply the presence of the 19 parents or mentors who accompanied the team on its two-game Florida swing this week.

Whatever the reason, the Sabres have won back-to-back games for the first time in almost three weeks.

Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville scored in the shootout Thursday night, and the Sabres defeated the Florida Panthers 4-3 at BB&T Center.

It came two nights after a 2-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"I think we need our parents to stick with us," Pominville said jokingly. "Honestly, it's huge to be able to stick a couple in a row here. If we want to make a run, we're going to have to keep doing that. You can't go win one, lose one, win one, lose two. You've got to get on a roll.

"Ron has made some adjustments, made some changes. He said from the get-go it might take some time, but we're slowly starting to get results."

Pominville clinched the victory in the second round of the shootout after Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller stopped Jonathan Huberdeau and Peter Mueller.

Vanek and Pominville scored almost the exact same way, with a wrist shot above the pad to the stick side against left-handed Jose Theodore.

"You're not used to seeing a goalie that catches the other side too often," Pominville said. "I was able to see a little bit of what he was showing on the video when Thomas went. I mean, the hole was there, so I decided to shoot there."

The Sabres improved to 2-0 in shootouts this season, with Pominville and Vanek each 2-for-2. Florida won its first shootout of the season against the Philadelphia Flyers on Feb. 7 when Huberdeau and Mueller scored.

"I like our chances in the shootout," Pominville said. "Ryan is so good in the shootout that if we get there, we usually have a good chance to win. We were smart in the overtime and were able to get out of here with two (points)."

Nathan Gerbe scored his first two goals of the season for the Sabres, who squandered leads of 2-0 and 3-2.

Gerbe, at 5-foot-5 the shortest player in the NHL, had been held to two assists in 16 games this season.

"Obviously I want to score goals, but it doesn't change my mentality," Gerbe said. "I still go into every game with a workman's attitude and I think that's what's going to help this team and help myself.

"I know (getting on a roll is) something I'm capable of doing. It's a matter of going out there and working hard every day and doing my part, getting pucks to the net. The biggest thing for me is creating energy for this team and creating chances with my speed and help my linemates."

Tyler Ennis had a goal and an assist for the Sabres, who evened their record at 2-2-0 under Rolston and won consecutive games for the first time since Feb. 7 and 9.

Ennis' goal came on the power play, snapping Buffalo's 0-for-13 drought with the man advantage.

Steve Ott had two assists for the 11th time in his career, the first since a March 26, 2012 game at the Calgary Flames while playing for the Dallas Stars.

The Sabres' three first-period goals surpassed their scoring output of each of their past four games.

"It was a good first period," Ott said. "Gerbs had two phenomenal goals and our power play got a huge one. That was definitely very nice. It was something that we needed."

Miller made 40 saves in regulation and overtime, including 33 after the first period when the Sabres were outshot 34-14.

Marcel Goc and Brian Campbell each had a goal and an assist for the Panthers, who have lost eight of 10. Florida, coming off a 6-4 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins, missed a chance for its first winning streak since Jan. 31 and Feb. 3.

Drew Shore had the other Florida goal.

"There's a few games over the last week where we ended up with one point and you leave the rink with a bad taste in your mouth," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "If you look at tempo, pace and the way the game played out, we're not dissatisfied with the way we played the game. If you don't end up with two points, that's unfortunate, but at the end of it, if we play that way and keep moving in the right direction, that's a sign we're headed in the right direction."

Campbell scored with 1:36 left in regulation to tie the game. It was his sixth goal of the season but his first at even strength.

Campbell, who played 391 games with the Sabres from 1999-2008, scored the game-winner when Florida won at Buffalo on Super Bowl Sunday.

"Tonight was one of those nights why we understand Brian Campbell is a special player," Dineen said. "He was involved in the offense, he was hard to play against defensively. There's always a little pride when you go against a team you played with before and tonight he certainly had the jump against Buffalo."

Scott Clemmensen started in net for Florida, but was pulled after Gerbe's second goal at 16:46 of the first period gave Buffalo a 3-2 lead. Clemmensen gave up three goals on 10 shots.

It was the second consecutive game the Panthers' starting goalie was pulled. Clemmensen replaced Theodore to start the third period Tuesday against Pittsburgh and stopped all 15 shots he faced to earn the victory.

Ironically, the two poor starts by the Panthers' veteran goalies came right after top prospect Jacob Markstrom was reassigned to San Antonio of the American Hockey League after Markstrom had two solid outings for Florida.

"I've always had a very long leash when it comes to my goalies, especially since I've been in the NHL," Dineen said. "I've had two quality veterans who understand the game and know when to step it up. That's not happening for us right now and we're not giving ourselves the best chance to win every night. That's what we'll evaluate tomorrow and get ready for our back-to-back against Carolina (Saturday and Sunday)."

Center Stephen Weiss was back in the Florida lineup after missing Tuesday's game to attend his grandmother's funeral. The Panthers lost defenseman Mike Weaver to a lower-body injury midway through the first period.

The news on Weaver apparently isn't good, with Dineen saying the veteran could be sidelined "quite a while, by the looks of it."

Gerbe, who had six goals in 62 games last season, opened the scoring at 6:30 when his seemingly harmless wrist shot from the right dot caught Clemmensen off guard and beat him to the stick side.

Clemmensen also was shaky on Gerbe's second goal, a close-range flick to the short side from a sharp angle after Gerbe had gotten by defenseman Erik Gudbranson.

Rolston was impressed with Gerbe's work.

"He's been playing well," Rolston said. "Since I've been here, he's playing with a lot of energy. He's moving his feet, he's making things happen. Tonight he really had some jump in his skates. Again, the important thing for him is just getting pucks to the net. Our team's got to do that. If we want more offense, that's where it is."

Buffalo led 2-0 after Ennis' power-play goal at 11:00 before the Panthers scored twice in a span of 1:22 to tie the game.

Shore scored on the power play at 14:24 on a backhand off a rebound after Dmitry Kulikov's slap shot from the point bounced off the end boards.

Goc followed at 16:46 with his second goal in two games with a strong individual effort behind the Buffalo net. After Tomas Fleischmann dumped the puck, Goc outfought Robyn Regehr and Cody Hodgson, and when the puck slid to the front of the net, he swept it between Miller's legs.

"That was a good game," Gerbe said. "We settled back maybe a little too much in the second, they took it to us. But a resilient win for us. Obviously we don't want to give up that late goal, but Ryan did a great job getting us in a shootout."

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