It wasn’t quite Major League Baseball’s closing day last season, where the Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, Atlanta Braves, and St. Louis Cardinals battled for their playoff lives at the same time, but Tuesday was a wild night inside the National Hockey league, with the Florida Panthers looking to clinch their first division title and the Buffalo Sabres looking to stay alive one more day.
The Sabres started things off, with a 7:00 face-off against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto got on the board thrice in the first period, with Tyler Bozak scoring two goals and Matt Frattin adding the third. Things were already looking good for the Panthers, who would clinch a playoff berth with Buffalo’s loss. Florida needed a win to clinch the division.
The Panthers gave themselves that much more breathing room in their fist period against the Winnipeg Jets, scoring two goals of their own. Marco Sturm lit the lamp for the third time this season, and Kris Versteeg added the second of the game. Things were looking up for Panthers fans, and all signs pointed to the end of the road for Sabres fans.
It would be simple to end the story here, but the madness was just beginning. Buffalo exploded back to score two unanswered in the second, with Tyler Ennis and Alexander Sulzer scoring the two Sabres goals. They pulled to within a goal at 3-2.
Florida came storming out of the gates in their second frame, as Tomas Fleischmann netted a goal just 25 seconds into the period. After that goal, the Panthers lost their mojo, as Evander Kane and Zach Bagosian got two of the goals back, sending the game to the intermission also at 3-2.
Buffalo and Toronto scored a total of five goals in the third period, with Toronto’s Clarke McArthur getting on the board first 1:28 into the period to make it 4-2. Things again looked up for the Panthers, who still held a one goal lead in their game. Under a minute later, Derek Roy cut the lead in half with a slap shot, 4-3.
Meanwhile, just a minute into the third in Sunrise, FL, Andrew Ladd scored the game’s tying goal and third unanswered goal. The Panthers, and their fans, were stunned at the 3-3 tie. The game went from bad to worse, when Bryan Little scored the team’s fourth unanswered goal, making it 4-3 Jets.
Back in Buffalo, the Leafs’ Jake Gardiner gave his team a bit of breathing room midway through the third, at 5-3. The Sabres would not die, as they scored twice before the period expired to tie the game at 5 goals apiece. Sulzer, who had two goals his entire career coming into the game, scored his second of the night. Jordan Leopold added a goal with under two minutes left to tie it up. Both goals came amid some controversy as the puck was covered up without a whistle. The war room reviewed Sulzer’s goal.
The Sabres and Leafs entered overtime, and 3:29 into the extra session, Roy scored his second of the night to give the Sabres the most unlikely of comeback wins, as they won 6-5. Florida would have to earn two points in order to clinch the playoffs tonight.
The crowd in Florida grew to a deafening silence.
With the game in Buffalo tied and the wind knocked out of their sails, the Panthers showed no signs of life until Tomas Kopecky scored at the 16:07 mark of the third period, tying the game at 4.
The Panthers hung on for dear life, and began to buzz again, but could not finish the game up in regulation. 3:17 into the bonus period, Ladd scored again. Florida ended the night with one point, but nothing to show for it.
Florida is now just one point away from their first division title, and will face the Washington Capitals on Thursday. The Sabres will play at the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday. With the Panthers, Capitals, and Sabres battling for two playoff spots, Thursday has the makings of another Tuesday night.