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Sabres-Panthers Preview @NHL

Hoping to reach the playoffs for the first time in eight years, first-year Florida Panthers coach Peter DeBoer has no choice but to play the hot hand.

That means giving red-hot Craig Anderson a fourth straight start in net.

Anderson looks to lead the surging Panthers to their third straight win as they host the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night.

After the offseason trade that sent Olli Jokinen - their captain and best player - to Phoenix, the Panthers (10-11-3) figured to struggle offensively this season, placing an added burden on expected No. 1 goaltender Tomas Vokoun.

Scoring has been a problem for Florida as the team ranks near the bottom of the NHL in goals per game (2.50) and power-play conversion (15.2). Making matters worse has been recent injuries to three of the team's top forwards.

David Booth, who leads the Panthers with 12 goals, is expected to miss his second straight game with a shoulder injury. Nathan Horton, fourth on the team with 13 points, likely will miss his fourth consecutive contest due to a deep cut on his ankle while Cory Stillman remains sidelined with a concussion.

Still, Florida has flourished lately, going 3-0-2 in its last five games for its best stretch of the season.

While Vokoun hasn't played badly, he hasn't been as good as Anderson and DeBoer is expected to start him again on Thursday.

Anderson improved to 5-1-3 this season after making 23 saves in a 5-3 victory at Washington on Tuesday. The sixth-year goaltender leads the NHL with a .943 save percentage, allowing 11 goals in his last seven starts.

He stopped 37 shots in a 4-0 victory over the New York Rangers on Sunday.

"Obviously, with the adversity of the injuries and the quality of the players we had out of the lineup, we really had to play a good team game, and I think we did that against two pretty potent teams in New York and Washington," DeBoer told the Panthers' official Web site. "Our guys showed up with a game plan, executed it, and got rewarded."

With three top forwards out, the line of Ville Peltonen, Radek Dvorak and Gregory Campbell has picked up the slack. They've combined for nine goals and 10 assists in the last six games.

The Sabres (11-10-3) open a three-game road trip on Thursday, which may not be a bad thing for a team that has lost seven of nine overall and four of six at home.

"The road is sometimes a better place," coach Lindy Ruff told the Sabres' official Web site. "You don't have to worry about trying to entertain and we can do what teams have done to us in our building. It might be an easier place."

Buffalo looked like a tired team in Monday's 2-0 loss as Nashville's Pekka Rinne earned his first career shutout. After averaging 3.0 goals during a season-opening 9-3-3 stretch, the Sabres have been limited to 18 during their current 2-7-0 slide.

Injuries have also become a problem for Buffalo, which could be without defensemen Toni Lydman (foot) and Craig Rivet (upper body).

Ryan Miller likely will be in net for the Sabres, seeking his fifth straight win against the Panthers. He has a 1.50 goals-against average and one shutout during his four-game streak.

The Sabres have won five of the last six meetings with the Panthers, including three straight at Florida.

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