By the time the first minute ticked off the clock in the second period of their game on Tuesday night, the Buffalo Sabres already found themselves trailing 4-0. That's never an ideal situation, and against the division-leading Florida Panthers it proved to be insurmountable.
Even when Sam Reinhart scored back-to-back power-play goals for Buffalo Sabres to pull them within two, the Panthers were able to answer with two more of their own. The Sabres tacked on another goal but could never overcome their slow start in a 7-4 loss at First Niagara Center.
"Very seldom can you win a game against a team with that much talent in their lineup when you come out like that," Reinhart said. "Every time we tried to make a push in that game, their top guys came right back and showed us how you can't come out like that. It was kind of disappointing right from the start."
Reilly Smith opened the scoring and added an empty-netter late while Brian Campbell, Jussi Jokinen, Brandon Pirri, Jaromir Jagr each tallied a goal in the win for the Panthers, their third against the Sabres this season. Roberto Luongo made 30 saves for his 24th win of the season.
Evander Kane scored his 13th goal of the year for Buffalo while Ryan O'Reilly earned assists on both of Reinhart's second-period goals. Starting goaltender Robin Lehner was pulled after allowing four goals on 12 shots and Chad Johnson made 20 saves in relief, but was saddled with the loss.
The defeat snapped a four-game point streak for the Sabres, who are now winless in their last three contests.
"To a man we let this one [go]," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "We gave them the opportunities and that's with how we played. That's disappointing. We've battled and we've played hard in a lot of games recently and it wasn’t there tonight."
COMEBACK FALLS FLAT
The last minute of the first period and first minute of the second were tough ones for the Sabres. After Florida had already opened up to a 2-0 lead, Jokinen scored again with 25 seconds remaining in the first. Then Petrovic extended the lead to four 22 seconds out of intermission.
The Sabres were given new life when Brent Regner was called for holding just 12 seconds later, opening the door for Reinhart to score the first of his two power-play goals. Rasmus Ristolainen took a shot that deflected off the end boards and Reinhart was able take the puck and beat Luongo with the post.
Zach Bogosian was tripped to give the Sabres yet another power play just a few minutes later, and this time it was O'Reilly who set up Reinhart with a pass across the net that deflected off the rookie's skate just 5:04 into the period.
"That goal in the first minute was pretty tough to swallow but we were able to get a couple of penalties and get some momentum," Reinhart said. "A 4-2 hockey game is really anyone's game, I mean we get the next one and it's a one-goal game again."
Buffalo had a few chances to get that next one, none better than an opportunity on an open net for Daniel Catenacci with 13:42 remaining in the second. Playing in his second NHL game, Catenacci took a backhand attempt that sailed high over the net.
"We're still fighting to be in the game at that point in time," Bylsma said. "You kind of throw your head back a little bit with the missed opportunity over the cage, 4-3 might be a different game."
Instead, Pirri tipped a goal shortly after and Jagr added another with 2:07 remaining in the period. After Kane's goal brought them back within two, the Sabres had a chance to make it a one-goal game again in the final minutes of third when Jamie McGinn took a one-time shot from point-blank range.
Luongo made that final stop, however, and the Panthers went the other way to score on the empty net on the ensuing possession.
With his team trailing 4-1, Kane said it was simply an attempt to energize the crowd when he dropped gloves for the first time this season for a fight with Petrovic in the second period. Clearly, it became more personal as the night went on.
Kane and Petrovic fought again later in the second, with Kane holding up two fingers afterward to show his opinion as to who had won each match. Then they fought again in the third, each receiving a game misconduct for their fighting three times in a single contest.
The last time Kane fought three times in a game? Maybe midget, he said.
"He's a big boy," Kane said. "I thought I'd try to get the crowd back into it a little bit and set the tone a little bit. It just seemed to be a bit of a battle throughout the game."
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Kane and Petrovic are first pair to face off three times in a game since Jody Shelley of Columbus and Bob Probert of Chicago on Jan. 10, 2002.
McCABE SKATES AT FORWARD
With Zemgus Girgensons and Johan Larsson both unable to play on Tuesday night and no room for a recall to the 23-man roster, the Sabres went forward with seven defensemen against the Panthers. Jake McCabe, a defenseman his whole career, made the switch to right wing on the fourth line.
McCabe ended the night with three shots and three hits in 9:34 of ice time.
The Sabres will take to the road for their third and final matchup of the season with the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night at Wells Fargo Center. Buffalo was victorious in each of the two previous contests, winning 4-3 in overtime on Oct. 27 and 3-1 on Oct. 30.
Coverage on Thursday begins at 6:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.