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Thomas, Panthers hold off Sabres

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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Florida Panthers' red-hot penalty-killing unit saw its shutout streak end just over two minutes into Tuesday night's game against the Buffalo Sabres.

The unit responded with the game on the line, however, to lead the Panthers to a 4-3 victory.

Clinging to a one-goal lead late, Florida held strong for 1:30 of four-on-three action to win its second road game in as many nights. The Panthers defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-1 Monday.

"Their effort there at the end blocking shots is what they have to do," Florida coach Peter Horachek said. "Tough situation, (Buffalo) having the extra man down there like that. But they came through. They battled, they blocked six shots, they did what they had to do. It was good to get the points. It wasn't pretty."

Heading into the game, the Panthers had killed off a franchise-best 29 consecutive power-play attempts over 10 games. They gave up two power-play goals to the Sabres but were terrific in the clutch.

The Sabres received an extended advantage late after right winger Brad Boyes received a four-minute high-sticking penalty.

Centers Nick Bjugstad and Jesse Winchester, defenseman Ed Jovanovski and left winger Sean Bergenheim scored for the Panthers (20-23-7). It was Jovanovski's 1,100th career game.

Florida's best penalty-killer was goalie Tim Thomas, who was outstanding. Thomas finished with 32 saves and made several big stops late to preserve the victory.

Thomas' two best saves came in a span of 41 seconds early in the final period. He denied right winger Drew Stafford a hat trick with a huge glove save on a two-on-one opportunity. Moments later, he stopped center Cody Hodgson on a breakaway.

Thomas also had a big pad save on Steve Ott with 5:50 remaining with the Buffalo center parked inside the Florida crease.

"As the game wore on, I got myself in a good spot to where I wasn't overthinking things," Thomas said. "I wasn't even thinking about it too much. It was just, 'Breakaway? OK. Save it. A 2-on-1? OK, do the best I can to save it.' I took that attitude based on the start of the game where it was kind of crazy and Stafford beat me with a couple of shots.

"Instead of bearing down as a response, which you can do sometimes, I actually just decided to relax a little bit."

Stafford had two goals for the Sabres (13-28-7). Ott scored late to cut Florida's lead to 4-3.

The Sabres blew a 2-1 lead late in the first period when they allowed two goals in a span of 52 seconds.

"It's just one of those games," Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said. "The way we finished is the way we have to play almost the whole time. The other team was pretty optimistic tonight, they had two good chances and they had some good shots and it went in. We just didn't play consistent."

Goalie Ryan Miller, Buffalo's unquestioned MVP this season, had a rare difficult evening between the pipes. He finished with 18 saves.

"It wasn't one of my better games," Miller said. "I don't think it was a very clean game, a little sloppy on my part. But that's the way it goes over the course of the season."

Stafford opened the scoring with his first goal of the evening 2:33 into the first period. With the Sabres on the power play, Stafford received a nice feed from Ott in the slot and beat Thomas with a low wrist shot.

Winchester tied the game 1:43 later by redirecting a long shot from Jovanovski inside the Sabres' right circle.

Stafford picked up his second goal of the night two minutes later following a huge hit from Sabres defenseman Mike Weber on Florida left winger Jonathan Huberdeau. Weber leveled Huberdeau with a clean check along the right boards to force a turnover in the Panthers' end. Sabres center Tyler Ennis picked up the loose puck and fed Stafford, who ripped a shot past Thomas on the blocker side at 6:16.

After falling behind 2-1, Florida took charge late in the first.

Bergenheim redirected defenseman Tom Gilbert's shot past Miller with 1:56 remaining in the first, and Jovanovski blasted a snap shot over Miller's right shoulder with 1:04 left in the opening period.

Bjugstad gave Florida a two-goal lead with 4:48 remaining in the second period with a blistering wrist shot. Bjugstad flew down the right wing and beat Miller to the near side to give the Panthers a welcome cushion.

Ott cut Buffalo's deficit to one with a power-play goal after pouncing on a rebound in front of the Florida net 8:36 into the third period. It was the 100th career goal for the Buffalo captain.

NOTES: Florida C Aleksander Barkov left the game with an undisclosed injury and did not return. Coach Peter Horachek did not have any information about the injury after the game but said he does not think the ailment is serious. ... The Sabres scratched D Mark Pysyk, C Zenon Konopka and D Alexander Sulzer. ... The Panthers scratched RW Jimmy Hayes, C Scott Gomez and RW Tomas Kopecky. ... Before the game, the Sabres recalled D Henrik Tallinder from injured reserve and placed RW Matt D'Agostini (upper body) on IR. Tallinder played for the first time since suffering an injury on Dec. 29 against the Washington Capitals. ... This was the third of four meetings between the teams this season, with each team winning on the road previously. They wrap up their season series March 7 in Florida.
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