SUNRISE, FLORIDA (TICKER) —Mika Noronen did not care about recording his first NHL shutout. He just wanted a win.
Noronen, who needed 21 appearances for his first career shutout, made four saves in the first period, 12 in the second and 13 in the third en route to his first win since March 24, 2002.
“It’s been really hard this year. I had a couple of good games where it would be 1-1, but we’d lose in overtime,” said Noronen, who admitted the first win was more gratifying. “It’s hard mentally. I’m glad now that I got my first win, but I still believe it’s a little too late. Still, it’s nice to get two points.”
Noronen also got some help from Buffalo’s special teams, which killed six straight penalties, including a 35-second two-man disadvantage, over the final two periods.
“It was easier though, when the game is 3-0, 4-0,” Noronen said. “If they scored one, it’s not that big a deal. The (penalty-killing) guys played good tonight. We battled hard. I guess that’s the reason why we won tonight.”
The win was the 210th for Ruff, tying him with Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman for the team record. Ruff is 210-177-61-15 since taking over for Ted Nolan in 1997. Bowman was 210-134-60 in three stints with Buffalo.
“I would have hoped it would have happened a lot sooner this season,” said Ruff, a former Panthers’ assistant. “I’ve had a lot of good players that have played for me, that have done a lot of good things. Even now, when the season has been under a lot of distress, the players have still shown up and played.”
Defenseman Brian Campbell scored the only goal Noronen needed with 3:27 left in the first period. Maxim Afinogenov skated behind the net and centered to Campbell in the slot, where he one-timed the puck past goaltender Jani Hurme for his second goal of the season.
The Sabres extended their lead midway through the second period, taking advantage of an odd-man rush moments after defenseman Andreas Lilja pinched into the offensive zone and broke his stick.
As Lilja skated to the bench, defenseman Rhett Warrener poked the puck ahead to Stu Barnes. The former Panther skated across the blue line unchallenged and rifled a shot from the left faceoff circle over Hurme’s left shoulder.
“There was a quick turnover, I took two quick steps and someone poked the puck up to me,” Barnes said. “I just kind of skated down, figured I’d get it on net and, if nothing else, get a rebound. I got lucky and it went in.”
“We took advantage of a break,” Ruff said. “They go down the ice and break a stick and have to change and we get the rush going the other way. I think at that time in the game, that was a big swing for us right there.”
Jochen Hecht gave Buffalo a three-goal cushion 37 seconds later with a power-play tally. Defenseman Rory Fitzpatrick intercepted a clearing pass at the right point and poked it to Hecht at the right side of the crease. While falling to the ice, Hecht wristed the puck under Hurme’s glove.
Florida’s home winless streak reached nine games (0-6-2-1) as the Panthers were held to two goals or fewer for the eighth straight contest.
“I’ve identified that we play a more simplistic game on the road than we do at home and for that reason, we come up with better results,” Panthers coach Mike Keenan said. “We have more continuity in our game (on the road).”
Hurme made 21 saves but is winless in his last five games (0-4-1).