SUNRISE, Fla. – Henri Jokiharju shared the motivating force driving the Buffalo Sabres through their final games of the season in the wake of being eliminated from playoff contention.

“Just loving the game,” Jokiharju said. “I think that’s what connects all the players here, just wanting to have great games and finish the season on a high note even though we missed the playoffs.”

Jokiharju was among a group of Sabres players who gutted out a five-minute penalty kill to force what had been a closely contested game to overtime, but the Florida Panthers came away with a 3-2 victory inside Amerant Bank Arena on Saturday.

Aleksander Barkov forced a turnover along the boards and found Sam Reinhart for the winning goal with 1:02 remaining in the extra period.

“Of course, it’s tough,” Jokiharju said. “You want to win every game. That’s what we play for here.”

The two teams were tied 2-2 when Connor Clifton received a match penalty for a hit on Panthers forward Nick Cousins with 13:56 remaining in the third period. The Sabres were able to spend the ensuing five minutes limiting quality chances for a Panthers power play that entered the night ranked seventh in the NHL. The Panthers totaled seven shots during the elongated man advantage, all of which were turned away by Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen in what would end as a 39-save effort.

Buffalo’s penalty kill stepped up again following a high-sticking call against Alex Tuch with 34.9 seconds remaining in regulation, which set Florida up with a 4-on-3 power play to open overtime. Florida had one shot hit the crossbar but was otherwise limited once again.

“Just try to keep them to the outside and give them bad looks,” Jokiharju said. “I think, especially in the five-minute penalty, I don’t think they had too many chances. On the other one at the start of OT they had a couple chances but that’s good, we have a great goalie back there.”

Jordan Greenway led the Sabres with 6:12 of shorthanded ice time followed by Owen Power (6:10) and Jokiharju (4:56). The Panthers totaled eight shots in nine minutes on the power play.

“We’ve been doing a pretty good job overall,” Greenway said. “The forecheck, in zone, knowing when to pressure and when to back off and wait for your opportunity. And just playing hard. Any time you can win a battle, get the puck all the way down the ice, it helps the kill out a lot. We were able to do that a good amount of times.”

Jordan Greenway addresses the media

The four goals scored in regulation all came within a span of 6:49 during the first period. Tyson Jost ignited the run with a deflection on a shot from Rasmus Dahlin, after which the Panthers responded with a goal from Anton Lundell and a shorthanded breakaway from Kevin Stenlund. Jack Quinn buried a rebound on that same power play to tie the score at 2-2.

That score held for the remainder of regulation thanks in large part to the Sabres’ defensive efforts. 

“You could tell our guys weren’t as sharp,” Granato said. “As a consequence, they weren’t as sharp with the puck and they had to defend a little bit more, but they defended hard. And that’s the key. The moments we needed to defend, they defended hard.

“They limited second chances and second opportunities or pushed pucks to the outside a little bit more and contested pucks around the net better. Obviously that enabled us, with some good play by Upie, to weather a few storms.”

Here’s more from the loss.

1. The Sabres played for the first time against former captain Kyle Okposo, who was traded to the Panthers on March 8. Okposo took the opening faceoff and went on to skate 8:35 in the contest.

2. Bowen Byram returned to the lineup after missing the team’s game on Thursday due to a personal matter. The defenseman skated 22:22, had four blocked shots, and earned the primary assist on Quinn’s power-play goal.

3. Dahlin’s assist on Jost’s goal was his 59th point of the season, moving him into a tie with Tuch for the team lead.

Up next

The 2023-24 season concludes Monday against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Pregame coverage on MSG/MSG+ begins at 6:30 p.m. with puck drop scheduled for 7. Radio coverage can be found on WGR 550.