The unthinkable on Thursday night was Florida's ability to corral the top offensive team in the league. Entering the game, Buffalo was averaging a ghastly 4.33 goals per game, having scored 117 goals in 27 games. Turnovers, an inability to break through neutral zone pressure and mental mistakes led to just 18 shots on goal for the Sabres and a 3-1 loss in the team's second game in a season-long, five-game road trip.
"We had one guy that played tonight and that was our goaltender," said head coach Lindy Ruff. "There wasn't another man that really played on our team. I'll take the hit for that. They weren't ready to play."
Miller played and played well for Buffalo, which falls to 21-5-2 on the season. The Sabres netminder stopped 35-of-38 shots, including 17 to hold the Panthers scoreless in first period. Counter that with Buffalo's three shots on net in the opening frame and Miller was fighting an uphill battle from the onset.
"Mentally, our heads weren't in it," said Ruff. "We made careless and lackluster plays. We thought the game was going to be easy and our feet weren't moving."
Added co-captain Daniel Briere: "We got outworked tonight. There is no doubt about that. How hard we play and how hard we skate has been one of our strengths all season, and it wasn't there tonight."
Buffalo has struggled against the Panthers in recent years, posting a record of 6-6-2 in the series dating back to the 2002-2003 season. Of those 14 games, 10 were decided by a goal or less.
Olli Jokinen gave Florida the lead five minutes into the second period after snapping Stephen Weiss' rebound over Miller's left pad. The power play goal was Jokinen's team-leading 13th of the season.
Miller had been sensational to that point, stopping Florida's first 21 shots.
"If it wasn't for [Miller], we shouldn't have been in the game after the first period," Briere said. "It was almost as if we played so bad that we didn't deserve to find a way to win it tonight."
"The damage was done," said Miller. "Even if it would have been a tied game in the third, we'd been turned around so many times that we were more tired than we needed to be."
Logging two assists in the two teams first meeting this season, a 5-4 overtime victory for Buffalo on November 10, the Panthers' captain has recorded six goals and nine assists for 15 points in 25 match-ups with the Sabres.
"They played their system perfectly," said Briere. "They stayed within their limits and didn't give us much, but at the same time, we never used our speed to make them move."
With his fourth goal in the last two games, Briere tied the game with a two-man advantage for Buffalo. Stationed on the left wing, Briere fired Chris Drury's rebound over Alex Auld's right pad, after the other Sabres co-captain had one-timed Maxim Afinogenov's pass from the low slot. The tally at 19:27 was Briere's 14th of the season and his 12th point on the power play.
"Not at one point, except for that five-on-three, were we able to get anything going offensively," said Briere. "It was one of those nights where we couldn't get our legs going. It was almost as if we just expected it to come to us at one point. You can't just expect ... you've got to work at it."
"We should have called a timeout [following Briere's goal] and had everyone pat [Miller] on the pads just to thank him for keeping us in the game," said Ruff.
Florida struck quickly in the third to regain the lead. Just 49 seconds into the period on a two-on-one rush, Ric Jackman fired a loose puck over Miller - who was flattened by a sliding Dmitri Kalinin - for his first goal of the season.
Kalinin successfully prevented a centering pass by Nathan Horton by sprawling on the ice, but the defenseman's forward momentum carried him into the crease, knocking Buffalo's goaltender out of position.
Buzzing around the net, Florida collected their second power-play goal of the night to take a two-goal lead at 5:53 of the third. Kalinin blocked Jay Bouwmeester's shot from the point, but the puck deflected to Stephen Weiss at the left wing, where the center fired into the open net for his sixth goal of the season.
Nathan Paetsch became the third Sabres player to be assessed an instigator after challenging Branislav Mezei following a questionable hit by the defenseman. Pursuing the puck in the corner, Paetsch's head was slammed into the boards by the gargantuan blueliner, who is listed at six-foot-four, 235 pounds.
Quotes courtesy of WGR 550-AM, the official radio partner of the Buffalo Sabres.
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