The Panthers arrived in Buffalo under cover of darkness early Wednesday morning after having taken a hard-earned point out of Pittsburgh.
Despite losing 4-3 in a shootout Tuesday to the Penguins, coach Peter DeBoer said Wednesday he thought his team played a “smart road game,” against a Penguins team that is just starting to find its groove.
“They’re the hottest team in the NHL,” said DeBoer of the Penguins, who are 9-1-1 since Dan Bylsma took over as head coach. “They’ve got (defenseman) Sergei Gonchar back and they got a couple players (including Bill Guerin) at the trade deadline.”
The Panthers led 3-1 after two periods but the game changed dramatically just 2:20 into the third period when Jordan Staal scored to make it 3-2. Three minutes later, Sidney Crosby tied the game.
“Their second goal came early in the third period,” DeBoer said. “I thought if we could have outlasted them the first 10 minutes it might have been a different story. But when they scored, the building got into it and the momentum changed. I thought considering the circumstances, we weathered things pretty well.”
Those circumstances included playing without forward Nathan Horton (finger) and defenseman Bryan McCabe (nose), who aren’t expected to be back Thursday when the Panthers play the Sabres.
The Panthers were given another strong performance in goal by Tomas Vokoun, who stopped 47 shots. DeBoer wasn’t surprised that Vokoun faced so many shots.
“They threw a lot of pucks at the net,” DeBoer said. “They’ve got a dynamic, offensive team. On a good night they get 40 shots. I think with our injuries, with the players we had out of the lineup, I wasn’t surprised they had 50 shots.”
The Panthers, who held an optional skate Wednesday 15 minutes outside Buffalo at the Amherst Pepsi Center, will meet a Sabres team Thursday evening at HSBC Arena badly in need of points to stay afloat in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
After losing Tuesday 5-2 to Philadelphia, the Sabres are 2-4-1 in their last seven games and are 10th in the conference, three points behind the ninth-place Rangers and four behind eight-place Carolina.
DeBoer reported everyone came of out Tuesday’s game healthy and any change to the lineup would be discussed before Thursday’s pre-game skate.ELLERBY DOWN BUT NOT OUT
Defenseman Keaton Ellerby
returned Wednesday to the Panthers’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate in Rochester, N.Y. Ellerby has been called up twice the last two weeks as insurance because Jassen Cullimore’s wife is expecting. Since the drive from Rochester to Buffalo is just over an hour, Ellerby could be called back before Thursday’s game in Buffalo.SABRES FIGHTING FLU
The Sabres Maxim Afinogenov, Tim Connolly and Jochen Hecht all missed Wednesday’s practice due to the flu bug. All were expected in the lineup, however, for Thursday’s game against the Panthers.
One player not in uniform for the Sabres will be goalie Ryan Miller, who is still recovering from a high ankle sprain suffered Feb. 21 against the Rangers. Miller is 7-1 in his last eight starts against the Panthers and had won five of his last six against the Cats.
Without Miller in the lineup, the Sabres will turn to Patrick Lalime or Mikael Tellqvist. Lalime is 7-3 lifetime against the Panthers with a 2.09 goals against and .917 save percentage. Tellqvist is 0-1 against the Panthers with a 3.90 goals against…NOTES
The 50 shots Vokoun faced Tuesday in Pittsburgh marked the third time this season he’s faced that many. The Sharks took 50 shots on him Oct. 24 and the Lightning teed off 52 times against him Nov. 18. Vokoun’s record in the three games: 2-0-1…Jay Bouwmeester played 30:33 Tuesday evening, 5:35 while the Panthers were shorthanded. It was the 10th time this season he played 30 or more minutes…The next point Stephen Weiss
records will set a career-high for points in a season. Weiss is at 48 (11 goals, 37 assists), matching his career best set in 2006-07…Coach Lindy Ruff, now in his 12th season behind the Sabres bench, remains the longest-tenured head coach in the NHL. Seven coaches have been fired this season, six in the Eastern Conference. How quickly does the coaching carousel turn in the east? Behind Ruff, the Flyers John Stevens is second in seniority. This is his third season…