"We didn't have enough guys playing their best, but we were still there," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "It was a great opportunity. It was a disappointing game to let it get away with nothing happening."
Despite owning an 11-5 advantage in shots, the Panthers entered the first intermission trailing the Sabres 1-0 after Henri Jokiharju beat Sergei Bobrovsky at the 12:49 mark of the first period.
In the second, Conor Sheary doubled the lead to 2-0 with a goal from the doorstep at 1:35. Just a few minutes later, Sam Reinhart extended Buffalo's lead to 3-0 with a power-play goal at 5:42.
After Reinhart's goal, Bobrovsky was pulled in favor of backup Chris Driedger.
Searching for a spark in the third period, Mike Matheson got the Panthers on the board when he beat Linus Ullmark with a long wrist shot to trim the deficit to 3-1 at 12:40. Then, with 1:10 left in regulation, Evgenii Dadonov lit the lamp after Florida had pulled its goaltender to make it 3-2.
Pulling their goaltender again soon after, the Panthers came very close to getting the game to overtime when Jonathan Huberdeau's shot with seconds left on the clock missed by an inch.
"I still thought that once we got one, we got two, and then we missed a great chance to get something out of this game," Quenneville said. "Maybe not deserving, but almost there."
In defeat, the Panthers once again pointed to the abundance of missed opportunities. In all situations - including three power plays - they finished with big advantages in shots on goal (34-18), shot attempts (64-35) and scoring chances (25-16), according to NaturalStatrick.com.
Driedger stopped 11 of 11 shots, while Ullmark denied 32 of 34.
"We did do a good job of limiting their chances," Matheson said. "I think our power play did a great job of generating chances, and in the third period we had a bunch of chances. It's one of those games where you look back and you feel like you played a decent game but if a couple of those shots had gone in we'd been feeling much different. At the end of the day they didn't, so we need to find ways to be better and to bury those chances when we get them."
Here are five takeaways from Saturday's loss in Buffalo…
1. DRIEDGER SHARP IN RELIEF
Coming into the game cold, Driedger did a good job of keeping the score close.
Manning the crease for 32:20, the 25-year-old backup stopped all 11 shots he faced.
In five appearances this season, he owns a 3-1-0 record with a .938 save percentage.
"He did a great job," Matheson said of Driedger, who also owns a 2.00 goals-against average and one shutout in five games this season. "He made a lot of nice saves and was great moving the puck to us on the breakouts. That's great to have."
Up with the Panthers since being recalled from AHL Springfield back on Nov. 25, Driedger was named to the AHL All-Star Classic on Friday. In 14 appearances with the Thunderbirds prior to being recalled, he went 6-8-0 with a 2.09 goals-against average and .938 save percentage.
2. GOING TOP-SHELF
This goal gave the Panthers some hope late in the game.
Carrying the puck into the offensive zone with two defenders on top of him, Matheson tucked the puck in before ripping a wrist shot from on top of the left circle that flew right over Ullmark's blocker and into the back of the net to trim Florida's deficit to 3-1 at 12:40 of the third period.
Video: FLA@BUF: Matheson strikes on the rush
Picking it up on offense in recent weeks, Matheson has now tallied four goals and three assists for seven points over his last 12 games. Overall, the 25-year-old rearguard has racked up nine points (four goals, five assists), 30 hits and 31 blocks while seeing 19:21 of ice time per game.
When Matheson was on the ice today, the Panthers owned a 15-5 advantage in shot attempts.
3. DADONOV NETS ANOTHER
Dadonov has climbed up Florida's goal-scoring chart in a hurry.
With the goaltender pulled late in the third period, the 30-year-old winger saw through the chaos around the crease, located a rebound and lifted the puck into the cage to make it 3-2 at 18:50.
Video: FLA@BUF: Dadonov cleans up rebound in front
Now locked into a tie with Huberdeau for the most goals on the team (17), Dadonov has lit the lamp five times over his last seven games - including three goals in his last two contests alone.
Dadonov also ranks second on the Panthers in points (33) and tied for fifth in assists (16).
4. ULLMARK STANDS TALL
Ullmark stood tall once again tonight - literally.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound goaltender made 32 saves this afternoon to improve to 3-0-0 against the Panthers this season. Over those three starts, he's stopped 116 of 122 shots (.951 percent).
"He's a good goalie," Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. "He's a big goalie and plays really well right now in the net, but at the same time we could've done a better job to get to the net an shoot more pucks and do a good job in front of the net."
Like Barkov, Quenneville also thinks the Panthers could've challenged Ullmark more. Of the 34 shots the 26-year-old faced, only six originated from high-danger areas on the ice.
"He did a good job, but we talked today that the theme was get to the net, get inside," Quenneville said. "We got zone time, but the looks, with him seeing pucks, were not challenging to the level that we're looking for."
5. END OF THE TRIP
The Panthers will wrap up their four-game road trip tomorrow in Pittsburgh.
Florida earned wins in the second half of each of its last three back-to-back sets, outscoring the opposition 15-8 in those contests. In their only previous meeting with the Penguins this season, Jonathan Huberdeau notched two points to lead the Panthers to a 4-2 win in Sunrise on Oct 22.
Following their trip, the Panthers will open up a four-game homestand at BB&T Center.
"It's the last game of our road trip, which hasn't gone exactly the way we wanted it to," Matheson said. "The best medicine for that is to get back at it next game and make sure that we bury every chance we get."
At the midway points of the season, Florida's record stands at 21-15-5.