The Florida Panthers are hoping to reach the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons. Squandering late leads and playing poorly at home isn’t going to help them get there.
The Panthers hope to record just their second win in nine home games as they face the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night for the third time this season.
Hoping to build momentum following a victory over Eastern Conference-leading Ottawa, Florida (22-24-5) instead suffered another late meltdown in a 4-3 shootout loss to Edmonton on Thursday.
The Panthers squandered a two-goal lead late in the third period and failed to win back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 18-20. It was fifth time Florida allowed a game-winning or game-tying goal in the final minute this season.
“We were up 3-1 and in control of the game and we found a way to lose a point again,” goaltender Tomas Vokoun said. “It’s definitely disappointing.”
Florida has been inconsistent lately, going 3-3-2 in its last eight games. The Panthers are only five points behind Southeast Division-leading Carolina, but are 13th in the Eastern Conference.
“I think we have to play with urgency and desperation and get different people to raise their game,” Panthers coach Jacques Martin told the team’s official Web site. “It has to happen.”
Part of Florida’s problem is its play at BankAtlantic Center, where it is 10-11-4 this season, winning just once in its last eight games there (1-4-3).
The Panthers could also use more offensive support for captain Olli Jokinen, the team leader with 24 goals and 49 points.
Right wing Nathan Horton scored a career-high 31 goals last season, but has only 12 in 51 contests in 2007-08. He has gone 10 games without a goal, picking up eight assists in that span.
Right wing Jozef Stumpel, seventh on the team with 18 points, is expected to return Wednesday after missing seven games with a shoulder injury.
Buffalo (22-21-6) came back from the All-Star break Tuesday with its second straight win, 4-2 at Tampa Bay. Jason Pominville had a goal and two assists for the Sabres, winners of three of five after losing 10 in a row (0-5-5).
“I thought coming off the break, we played pretty well,” Pominville said. “That’s the way we’ve got to play if we want to win games. We’ve got to be desperate.”
Drew Stafford and Derek Roy both stayed hot, combining for two goals and an assist. Stafford has five goals and four assists in his last five games while Roy has six goals and three assists in that span.
Ryan Miller stopped 23 of 25 shots, allowing two goals or fewer for the sixth time in seven starts.
Tuesday marked only the second time in nine games that Buffalo scored more than two goals. They also accomplished that in 10-1 win over Atlanta on Jan. 18.
These teams have split two games this season, each winning a 4-2 decision on the road. The Sabres have won five of the last seven meetings, including two straight in Florida.