The Buffalo Sabres are a Stanley Cup contender while the Florida Panthers
are one of the worst two teams in the Eastern Conference, and that difference
in performance was clearly shown on Saturday night as the Panthers lost to the
Sabres 3-1 at the Bank Atlantic Center. It wasn’t like the Sabres embarrassed the
Panthers, they just were far more efficient than Florida ever was during the
The Sabres scored one goal in each period and took advantage of their
power play opportunity in the first period to take a 1-0 lead. Meanwhile, the Panthers
respected Buffalo as a team too much in the first period and dug themselves a
two-goal hole against Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, who is arguably the best
goalie in the NHL at the moment.
To make the uphill battle even more difficult, the Panthers went 0-for-5
on their own power play chances and couldn’t capitalize on the three instances
when they had a power play while trailing by one-goal during the second period. The
goal in the second period by Byron Bitz that cut the lead in half wasn’t enough
to mask those deficiencies.
The game was put out of reach by the Sabres when the puck squirted out
off of a pile of players from both teams that were scrambling for it near
Florida’s goal and fell right into the stick of right wing Mike Grier, who only
had to push the puck into the empty net to cement the final score and let Miller
take care of the remaining six and a half minutes.
“[The Sabres] threw [the puck] into the top of net, everything collapsed
and then I didn’t know what was happening in the pile anymore,” said Panthers backup goalie Scott Clemmensen, who took over for starter Tomas Vokoun during the second period. “I thought the
puck was underneath me.”
Vokoun hasn’t seemed like himself ever since he allowed the incredible
tying goal against the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday night. During Saturday’s
game, it looked as if he still was shellshocked by it as he allowed two goals
in situations that are normally routine for him.
The first goal happened 13 minutes into the first period as Sabres
forward Jochen Hecht fired a snap shot that squeaked between Vokoun’s glove and
the glove post. Them two minutes into the second period, Buffalo widened its
lead when Vokoun strayed off the net to play the puck but couldn’t get back in
time as the shot by forward Patrick Kaleta went past him.
The 33-year-old goaltender was pulled out of the game after that play giving
way to Clemmensen, who had a fine performance and kept his team in the game. Panthers head coach Pete DeBoer said that the substitution came out of a
mix of necessity and wanting to give his team a spark. However, that spark wasn’t enough as
the Panthers had a couple of chances to tie it until midway through the third
period, but the posts kept getting in the way to seal their fate, and possibly any playoff
hopes they had left.