Buffalo looks to improve upon the best record in the Eastern Conference on Thursday when it faces the Panthers at HSBC Arena.
While the Sabres (23-5-2) lead the East with 23 wins and 48 points, the Panthers (10-17-6) are 14th in the 15-team conference with 10 wins and 26 points.
Despite their distance in the standings, Buffalo has split two games with Florida this season, and needed overtime for their victory. Thomas Vanek’s second goal of the game 19 seconds into the extra period lifted the Sabres to a 5-4 home win Nov. 10, but the Panthers avenged that loss with a 3-1 victory Dec. 7 in Florida.
The Sabres closed a five-game road trip Tuesday with a 3-2 victory at New Jersey, ending the Devils’ five-game overall win streak and their seven-game run at home.
“We knew coming in that we weren’t going to get too many odd-man rushes,” Briere said. “They play it tight, they play it tough. We were able to connect on our few odd-man rushes. Against the Devils, that’s the way you’ve got to beat them.”
Making Tuesday’s win more impressive was the absence of co-captain Chris Drury due to the flu. Drury, tied for the team lead with 17 goals, became the 11th Sabre this season to miss a game because of injury or illness.
Also out of the lineup was veteran defenseman Teppo Numminen, who missed his second game with a broken toe. Numminen is listed as day-to-day.
Right wing Maxim Afinogenov missed practice Monday with a sore groin, but played Tuesday and scored his 13th goal in the third period. He has at least one point in 10 of his last 12 games.
The Panthers appeared to be getting on track with back-to-back wins over Pittsburgh and Buffalo last week, but have lost three straight (0-2-1) since.
“There were times out there when we were lazy,” said forward Nathan Horton. “It seems like all their goals went in from the point. It wasn’t bad, but we needed more. We were a little short. We needed the points and we didn’t get them. What else can you say?”
Florida, which has lost nine of 11 overall (2-7-2), plays its next three games on the road, where it is 3-9-5.
Already missing high-scoring forward Todd Bertuzzi due to a back injury, Florida has had trouble generating offense all season. Captain Olli Jokinen is the only Panther in double figures in goals with 13, but he only has one in 17 road games.
The Sabres have 17 wins, six regulation losses and three ties all-time at home against the Panthers.