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Sabres-Panthers Preview @NHL

Daniel Briere was among the NHL's most best players through the first six weeks of the season before slumping.

The Buffalo Sabres (21-4-2) hope he can build off an unprecedented scoring outburst in his last game when they visit the Florida Panthers on Thursday at BankAtlantic Center.

Briere recorded the first career hat trick of his 429-game NHL career in the Sabres' 4-1 win on Tuesday over Tampa Bay.

"When nights like this happen, it's just not about yourself," Briere said. "I have to give my linemates a lot of credit because of the plays they made."

Briere had points in 17 of his first 19 games, leading Buffalo to a 16-2-1 record through Nov. 17. He was held without a point in six of seven games after that before his three-goal game against the Lightning.

Despite his slump, the Sabres went 5-2-1 and their 44 points lead the Eastern Conference. Briere continues to lead Buffalo with 20 assists and is tied with Thomas Vanek for the team lead with 33 points.

Briere has six goals and 12 points in 12 meetings with Florida, including two assists in the Sabres' 5-4 overtime home win on Nov. 10. Vanek's power-play goal 19 seconds into the extra session gave Buffalo the victory.

Florida (9-15-5) will try to win back-to-back games for just the second time this season. The Panthers ended a season-high six-game skid with a 3-2 win over Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

The last-place team in the Southeast Division, Florida managed one goal in its previous four games including consecutive shutout losses at Atlanta, Montreal and Ottawa.

Olli Jokinen scored his first goal in 15 road games this season by scoring the winner on a power-play with 5:07 left.

"It's been a tough last couple of weeks - (and) last month," said Jokinen, who had two assists in last month's loss to the Sabres. "We haven't been able to get wins but we haven't quit."

Jokinen has two goals and four assists in three-game points streak at home. Overall, he leads the team in scoring with 12 goals and 28 points.

Goaltender Alex Auld, who had 28 saves for his first win since Nov. 20. Auld has lost his last four home starts, posting a 4.13 goals-against average.

He also won his only career start against Buffalo, a 4-1 victory on Jan. 19 when he was with Vancouver.

Florida hasn't won consecutive games since Oct. 11-13 when it beats Carolina and Tampa Bay - the last two Stanley Cup winners.

The Panthers also will play their first game without Joe Nieuwendyk after the 20-year veteran announced his retirement on Wednesday because of chronic back problems.

Nieuwendyk, who won three Stanley Cup three titles and helped Canada capture an Olympic gold medal in 2002, missed 14 of the Panthers' first 29 games this season because of the injury.

The center finished his career with 564 goals and 562 assists in 1,257 games.

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