SUNRISE, Fla. – Robert Luongo’s return to Florida couldn’t have been better.
Luongo made 25 saves, while Dmitry Kulikov and Jesse Winchester each scored power-play goals to lead the Panthers over the Buffalo Sabres 2-0 on Friday night.
Luongo, acquired in a trade with Vancouver on Tuesday, was in net for the first time for Florida since April 18, 2006. Luongo previously played for Florida from 2000-2006.
“Kudos to all the guys in front of me tonight. It was really a team effort,” Luongo said. “Shutouts are always nice, but at the end of the day it’s about the wins. We did a good job.”
Luongo received a warm reception from the fans, with chants of “Louuuuu” resonating from the stands after every save.
“It was nice. It was a great reception right off the start of the game,” Luongo said.
It was the fourth shutout of the season for Luongo. His last was on Dec. 13, a 4-0 win for Vancouver over Edmonton in which he made 19 saves. It was the first regular-season shutout for the Panthers since a 2-0 win over Carolina on March 11, 2012 in which Jose Theodore had 34 saves.
Michal Neuvirth stopped 42 shots in his first start for Buffalo since being acquired from Washington last Wednesday. It was a great performance by Neuvirth, seeing his first action since before the Olympic break.
“This was my first time with a new team; for sure I was nervous,” Neuvirth said. “I’ve been practicing hard, but a game is a different story.”
The Panthers won for just the second time in seven games. The Sabres lost their second in six games.
Florida went ahead 2-0 on its second power-play goal. Kulikov took a slap shot from above the right circle that beat Neuvirth on the stick side at 4:04 of the second period. Neuvirth never saw it coming as he was screened on the play.
“I?just saw a bunch of bodies in front of the net,” Kulikov said. “I was screaming for the puck because I was wide open.”
The Panthers scored two power-play goals for the third time this season. The last time was Dec. 3 against Ottawa.
The Panthers grabbed a 1-0 lead when Winchester took a pass from Scottie Upshall in the low slot and flipped it over Neuvirth’s glove midway in the first period. The goal came with just 5 seconds left in a power play that lasted 6:30, including a 5-on-3 for 25 seconds. The Panthers have been woeful on the power play, entering the game 30th in the league.
That extended penalty was due to a delay of game on Matt D’Agostini. About 30 seconds later, Buffalo’s Marcus Foligno drew a five-minute major and a game misconduct when he drove Brandon Pirri into the boards. Pirri left briefly, but returned later in the period.
“I don’t think it was worthy of getting kicked out of the game,” Foligno said. “That put our team in a tough position and I think it was a tough call to make.”
The Sabres were outshot 30-13 through the first two periods, and 44-25 in the game. They may have been sluggish after playing their second game in as many nights, beating Tampa Bay 3-1 on Thursday. That victory was costly as the Sabres lost forwards Zemgus Girgensons and Chris Stewart with lower body injuries.
“Back-to-back games this late in the season, it’s tough for anybody,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “For two nights in a row, it was really tough.”
It didn’t get any better on Friday, as defenceman Alexander Sulzer suffered a lower body injury and will be out one to two weeks, according to Nolan.
The Panthers were awarded a penalty shot in the second period when Drew Stafford tripped Sean Bergenheim skating in on Neuvirth. But Neuvirth easily stopped Bergenheim’s shot with his stick.
NOTES: Buffalo recalled Luke Adam and Nicolas Deslauriers from AHL Rochester due to injuries. Both played in Friday’s game, with Deslauriers making his NHL debut. … Florida C Vincent Trocheck made his NHL debut after being called up from AHL San Antonio on Wednesday. … Upshall has six points in his last seven games.