BUFFALO, N.Y. – Chalk one up for the Buffalo Sabres’ rookies and role players.
Jason Pominville, who scored his team-leading 24th goal, was overshadowed on the scoresheet by a trio of rookies and fourth-line veteran Adam Mair in a 6-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night.
And that’s just fine with Pominville, considering Buffalo played without two top-line forwards. Centre Tim Connolly (foot) missed his third game, while left wing Thomas Vanek (lower body) missed his second game.
“It’s a big step when you have that much depth,” Pominville said. “Guys have stepped in at different moments and played well, and I think the two guys who got called up brought energy to the team.”
Pominville was referring to rookies Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe, who each scored after both were called up from the minors over the past week.
They weren’t the only ones in on the fun. Raffi Torres had three assists in his first game since missing six with a hand injury, while Mair, rookie Tim Kennedy and defenceman Henrik Tallinder also scored.
“You never want to be a one-dimensional team,” Mair said. “It’s something that I think builds confidence throughout the room.”
Ryan Miller made 13 saves for his 39th victory – one short of matching a career high – to help the Sabres inch closer to clinching the Northeast Division title.
Buffalo (43-23-10) won for the seventh time in eight games to move seven points ahead of second-place Ottawa in the division. The win also vaulted the Sabres into second place in the Eastern Conference, a point ahead of Pittsburgh after the Penguins lost 2-0 to Tampa Bay.
Michael Frolik and Jeff Taffe scored for Florida, which is all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
The Panthers extended their winless string to four (0-3-1), and looked like a team with little to play for. After Taffe opened the scoring less than two minutes in, Florida gave up four straight goals and was eventually outshot 41-15, including 20-2 in the second period.
“It was pretty ugly,” said Panthers coach Peter DeBoer, who was particularly displeased with his team’s performance in the second period.
“When you’re standing behind the bench for that, you want to be anywhere else. Unfortunately, this is the bed we’ve made and we have to lie in it.”
Pominville tied it at 1 from behind the goal line by banking a shot in off of Tomas Vokoun’s skate after the goalie stopped Tallinder’s snap shot. Kennedy then scored the go-ahead goal to cap a 3-on-2 rush with 1:51 left in the frame by roofing a shot into the top left corner.
Gerbe scored a power-play goal, snapping a shot through a crowd in front, to make it 3-1 at the 9:31 mark of the second period before the Panthers registered their first shot of the frame.
After Frolik cut the lead to 4-2 early in the third period, Ennis and Tallinder responded to seal the victory by scoring 33 seconds apart to make it 6-2 with just under 12 minutes left.
The balanced approach is just what Sabres coach Lindy Ruff wants to see in preparing for the playoffs.
“We look at all lines as lines that should be able to produce,” Ruff said. “They did a nice job of getting pucks to the net. They got good traffic. They got rewarded for a lot of really good work.”
Sabres defenceman and NHL rookie of the year candidate Tyler Myers earned his rookie-leading 35th assist. That moved him one ahead of Gilbert Perreault among Buffalo rookies and into a tie with Derek Plante for fifth on the team list.
NOTES: Panthers’ Taffe was called up earlier in the day from Rochester of the AHL after LW Rostislav Olesz was scratched because of a nagging hand injury. … The Sabres close their schedule playing five of their final six games on the road, starting at Toronto on Thursday. … The Panthers are on the verge of missing the playoffs for a ninth straight season, which would match the longest NHL drought set by the New Jersey Devils/Colorado Rockies from 1978-1987. The Sabres, by comparison, have missed the playoffs just 11 times in their 40-season history.