SUNRISE, Fla. - The Buffalo Sabres found themselves in an early hole on Friday and while they were able to tie it up and show some real emotion in the game's dying seconds, it was the Florida Panthers who capitalized on quality scoring chances to pick up their fifth straight win in a 4-1 victory over the Sabres at BB&T Center.
The Sabres, coming off back-to-back wins over Boston and Tampa Bay were obvioulsy disappointed with the result.
"It was a just bit of a frustrating game. They're fighting for their playoff lives. That would've been a good game to win for us," alternate captain Kyle Okposo said. "Those are the type of barometer games that if we're going to do that right now this late in the season, those are the types of games that we have to set our bar at."
The Panthers scored on the first shot of the game when defenseman Mike Matheson wristed in a shot from the point to beat Robin Lehner blocker side 1:25 into the game. Jared McCann won a faceoff to Lehner's right and then Jamie McGinn knocked the puck back to Matheson, who let the shot go through traffic.
Video: BUF Recap: Reinhart scores in 4-1 loss to Panthers
"We let that easy goal go in early, but I liked the way we responded. We tied it up right away and we give [up] that other goal again on a faceoff. Those are killers," coach Phil Housley said. "They can really take a lot of wind out of your sails but even at that point, we still had opportunities to tie up the game."
Buffalo answered 4:09 later thanks to a goal from Sam Reinhart. Victor Antipin took a point shot that was blocked in front by Aleksander Barkov. Ryan O'Reilly quickly scooped up the puck and fed it to Reinhart, who put it home past James Reimer for his 15th goal of the season.
Video: BUF@FLA: Reinhart nets O'Reilly's nice backhand pass
"I thought we had our opportunities at key times in the game. They capitalized on theirs and we didn't," Housley said. "The game's 2-1, we're getting really good looks. They're 2-on-1s, odd-man rushes and really some opportunities to make difference. We were not opportunistic at that time. That's where the game stood.
"[If] we tie it up, we get some momentum, but in retrospect, we can't give up two defensive zone faceoff goals against. That's attention to detail. We talked about that before the game. It's just awareness and not picking up our checks."
Florida regained the lead with 9:19 left in the first off a faceoff immediately after a fight between Jordan Nolan and Michael Haley. The faceoff was once again to Lehner's right and after Barkov won the draw, the Panthers worked the pick over to Aaron Ekblad, who one-timed it in from the right wing.
Barkov made it 3-1 when on the rush, he split the defensive pairing of Nathan Beaulieu and Justin Falk and roofed a backhand over Lehner's shoulder 6:49 into the second.
"The way it feels like for me, if I bury a couple more, we're right back in that game," Reinhart said. "I thought I gave myself a lot of looks so that could've changed the game a little bit too. But the chances they did create were Grade A ones so we could've done a bit better job of that."
Then with 8:44 left in the middle frame, the Panthers tallied again as a result of a breakout. Once the Panthers made it into the Sabres zone, Nick Bjugstad put a backhander on net and Colton Sceviour scored on the rebound, putting Florida ahead 4-1.
While the teams entered the third period tied with 20 shots each, Florida outshot Buffalo 10-5 in the third. Lehner finished with 26 saves while Reimer made 24 stops.
With 21.4 seconds to play, a scrum broke out in the Sabres zone that resulted in 46 combined penalty minutes (19 for Buffalo - a roughing minor and a fighting major to Beaulieu, a roughing minor to Okposo, and a 10-minute misconduct to Falk - and 27 for Florida).
Every skater on the ice was involved and Lehner inched closer and closer as it progressed to make sure his teammates were all right.
"Lately, everyone's been kind of doing their part. And that kind of shows everyone's bought in," Reinhart said. "Everyone's going to bat for each other."
While Housley liked the show of emotion, the timing or the overall situation was not ideal.
"I think we should have our aggression at the start of the game and playing heavy and finishing checks more than at the end of the game," he said.
Scandella 'OK' after hit into boards
Marco Scandella did not play after the first period. With 5:04 left in the first period, as he tried to cut in on James Reimer, he was crushed into the end boards by Bjugstad. Scandella would play one more shift, but it ended after five seconds (with 3:23 remaining in the first) because of the Nolan-Haley fight.
"Marco will be OK," Housley said. "Lower-body, bumps and bruises, so we just held him out."
The Sabres will return to practice on Sunday so stay tuned to Sabres.com for full coverage of that. Then on Monday, Buffalo and Toronto play each other for the first time all season. That'll happen at KeyBank Center at 7:30 p.m.