SUNRISE, Fla. - In the aftermath of a loss in Boston on Thursday, Sabres coach Ralph Krueger focused on the need to move forward. The result was painful, he said, but the effort and structure with which they played would bring them victories more often than not.
The Sabres stayed positive through a spirited practice on Saturday, then followed through with another strong outing on Sunday. This time it brought them the result they wanted, a 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center.
Jack Eichel contributed a goal and two assists for his fifth three-point outing of the season, already matching his career high. Zemgus Girgensons added a pair of goals, while Jeff Skinner and Victor Olofsson also found the back of the net.
Linus Ullmark made 43 saves.
"I had mentioned after the Boston game and this difficult stretch as of late that the spirit has been outstanding in the room," Krueger said. "I thought we had a real strong training day of practice yesterday.
"We had multiple meetings since the Boston game and I've never felt anybody lose spirit, lose confidence in what we're doing here, and that's one of the reasons the group was able to step up today and let us take that momentum forward into Tampa tomorrow night. Let's build on this win, for sure."
Video: Condensed Game: Sabres @ Panthers
With Zach Bogosian making his season debut and another game awaiting them in Tampa on Monday, the Sabres chose to dress seven defensemen and 11 forwards. The plan going into the game was for Brandon Montour to fill in on the wing when necessary.
That plan changed when the team lost Evan Rodrigues to an injury on his first shift of the night. Montour moved to the wing full-time for the remainder of the game. In 10:16 with him on the ice at 5-on-5, shot attempts were 10-7 in favor of Buffalo.
Montour kept the game simple, looking to get involved in the cycle and create havoc near the net. The Sabres monitored their shift lengths and ended the night with relatively balanced ice times up front - a point of emphasis from Krueger prior to the game. Aside from Eichel and Sam Reinhart, both of whom exceeded 20 minutes, all of Buffalo's forwards played between 12 and 18 minutes.
Another point Krueger had emphasized was the element of surprise playing with 11 forwards could offer. All five Buffalo goals included a different combination of forwards on the ice.
"It's an interesting style to play on the road," Krueger said. "It's very unpredictable, although within our team it's predictable because everybody was maintaining the structure of the team and maintaining the principles of the team. I think for the opposition, it's difficult."
Buffalo had to balance the disadvantage of being down a man with the challenge of protecting its lead against a Florida team that had erased four-goal deficits on two occasions this month. Following first-period goals from Skinner and Girgensons, Eichel put the Sabres up 3-0 at 3:42 of the second.
Each time the Panthers began to chip away, the Sabres had a response. Noel Acciari's second-period goal was answered by a laser from Olofsson, who banked a shot off the far post streaking down the left side on the rush.
Video: BUF@FLA: Olofsson beats Montembeault on partial break
Brett Connolly tallied a power-play goal early in the third, only for Girgensons to jam home his second goal of the game with 6:35 remaining.
When the going got tough, Ullmark was crucial as a last line of defense. He set the tone with a breakaway save on Colton Sceviour with the game still 0-0 in the first period, then stood tall during a 17-save third period.
"That's a moment where we can get down and he stepped up," Krueger said. "I thought he played an outstanding game today, staying on the initial shots. We were battling out in front to take away second opportunities and second chances, but he was the king of the first shots tonight. Really, really happy with his performance."
Though the outcome was different than their game in Boston, the message in the locker room following the win was the same. It was another performance worth building on, with another divisional opponent awaiting them Monday.
"It's big to get a win here against a good hockey team and just build some confidence in our group that, if we do the right things over and over, we'll get rewarded," Eichel said.
"We have to be happy with the results, so we play another really good hockey team tomorrow night and just have to find a way to bring that same effort."
The game marked the end of a long absence for Bogosian, who last played in Montreal on March 23 of last season. He missed all of training camp after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery and did not join his teammates for practice until Nov. 13.
Bogosian skated 22:03, including 3:33 on the penalty kill, and tallied an assist on Eichel's second-period goal.
Video: BUF@FLA: Eichel dekes defender, buries wrister
"It was great to see him," Eichel said. "I know how hard he's worked in the offseason and everything he's done to get back to this point, some of the adversity he's went through. … I thought he came in and brought a bit of leadership and a lot of intensity. I thought he made some great passes, finished his checks. It was just great to see him back out here. It was a good team win.
The Sabres conclude their road trip against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday. Coverage on MSG begins at 6:30 p.m., or you can listen to the game on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 7.