The Florida Panthers are making up for a sluggish start.
Michael Frolik scored twice, Dominic Moore and Rostislav Olesz had a goal and an assist each, and Tomas Vokoun made 26 saves in the Panthers 6-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night. After a 2-7-1 start, Florida has won six times in its last nine games, and has earned points in all but two of those contests to rebound back to respectability.
“It’s taken some time,” Moore said. “As you go you learn, and you try to improve each game. We’ve got a group that has taken a while to jell, so every game and every period we’re just trying to get better.”
The Panthers were certainly much better the second time around against a Sabres team that handed them a 5-2 pasting in October. Consistently winning races to the puck, and forcing Buffalo into giving the puck away a season-high 25 times, Florida was solid throughout a contest that remained close until three late third-period goals iced it.
“That last game against them we had a terrible start, and we were out of the game in the first period,” said Vokoun, 5-1-1 in his last seven starts.
“I think right now we’re playing much better as a team and guys are realizing what we need to do to win. Before, a lot of guys were doing their own thing, and you can’t win in this league by doing that.”
It was the second consecutive game the Panthers had a two-goal lead, but 48 hours after blowing it in a shootout loss to Los Angeles, Florida was determined not to let it happen again against a Sabres team that has allowed the fewest goals in the league.
“They’re an excellent team and a well coached team, so you know you’re doing things right if you play well against a team like that,” Moore said.
Stephen Weiss and Cory Stillman also scored for Florida (8-9-2), which beat the Sabres for the first time in five games.
Drew Stafford and Clarke MacArthur scored, and Ryan Miller made 18 saves for Buffalo (12-5-1), which was denied in its attempt to string together a four-game winning streak for the third time this season.
“They just played boring until they got a lead and then they played more boring,” Miller said. “You have to be willing to get it deep and just be boring yourself. It was one of those nights where everything we seem to do kind of went against us.”
After Stillman made it 3-1 midway through the third period, the Sabres gained momentum when they cashed in on a power play goal by MacArthur with 5:43 to go in regulation.
But Frolik made it 4-2 with a power-play goal of his own with 2:02 to go before Olesz scored in an empty net and Moore scored his first of the year with a minute left.
“A lot of the mistakes are on our own shoulders,” Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. “We turned some pucks over, and had some guys who didn’t stop and compete on pucks.”
Stafford opened the scoring with his sixth goal with 5:37 left in the first period. Stafford skated toward the net from the lower portion of the right circle before lifting the puck over Vokoun, who was on his knees. Frolik tied it four minutes later, netting his fifth goal on a one-timer from the high slot.
Weiss gave the Panthers a 2-1 edge 1:21 into the second period. After stopping Frolik’s wrist shot, Miller swatted the puck right into Weiss, who deposited it into an empty net. Stillman upped Florida’s lead with his sixth midway through the third, converting a 2-on-1 with Steven Reinprecht.
Florida defenceman Keith Ballard had three assists.
“We’ve really cleaned up our defensive game by leaps and bounds over the last dozen games,” Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said. “We couldn’t have been any worse in our first six or seven games of the season.”
NOTES: It was the most goals surrendered by the Sabres this season. … Stafford returned after missing a game because of a hip injury. … Buffalo LW Thomas Vanek extended his points streak to four games with an assist on Stafford’s goal. … Frolik has goals in three of his last five games after going 11 straight games without one.