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Panthers get Sabres next after improbable victory

Mar 7, 2022; Buffalo, New York, USA;  Florida Panthers center Sam Reinhart (13) skates around Buffalo Sabres defenseman Robert Hagg (8) with the puck during the third period at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Panthers can clinch a playoff berth with a win at the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday.

Florida is coming off an incredible 7-6 overtime win over the host New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon.

The Panthers trailed by four goals with 14:26 left in regulation. But they then scored five straight goals, including Gustav Forsling’s game-winner with 3:15 left in overtime.

“That’s a big one for us,” Panthers interim coach Andrew Brunette said of the victory. “Coming back like that doesn’t happen too often.”

The Panthers (47-15-6, 100 points), leaders in the Atlantic Division, made Saturday the first time all season that they won a game while allowing five or more goals.

The Panthers tied the franchise record with 47 single-season wins, a mark that was set in 2015-16. The Panthers had a franchise-record 103 points that year, but this season’s team is on pace to far surpass that number.

Five of Florida’s goals on Saturday were scored by defensemen, showing that the Panthers’ depth goes beyond its impressive list of forwards.

“We have some mobile defensemen who can move the puck and get up and join the rush,” Brunette said. “They have pretty good shots, too.”

Center Aleksander Barkov, who doubles as Florida’s captain, tops the team with 33 goals. He is one of the game’s best two-way players, and he scored twice on Saturday — both goals while the Panthers had pulled their goalie for an extra attacker.

The Panthers have five other forwards who have scored more than 20 goals this season: Anthony Duclair (26); Sam Bennett (26); Sam Reinhart (24); Jonathan Huberdeau (23); and Carter Verhaeghe (21).

Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who was pulled on Saturday after allowing six goals, will likely get a rest on Sunday.

The Panthers are expected to start rookie goalie Spencer Knight, who was spotless in his relief outing on Saturday.

Florida is 16-3-0 against teams currently out of playoff spots. Buffalo is facing its 11th straight year without a playoff berth.

Coach Don Granato went 9-16-3 last season in his interim role. This season, without the interim tag, Granato has made some progress with the Sabres (25-33-11, 61 points), who are in sixth place in the Atlantic Division.

Passing the Red Wings for fifth place is a reasonable goal by the end of this season for Buffalo. Detroit also has 61 points.

Granato, though, sets his goals in terms of attitude and not necessarily wins and losses.

“It boils down to compete and passion,” Granato said. “We want competitive people who are passionate about the game.”

The Sabres’ top players are forwards Tage Thompson, Jeff Skinner and Kyle Okposo as well as defenseman Rasmus Dahlin.

Thompson leads Buffalo with 30 goals — the first time he has reached that milestone. He also leads the Sabres with 53 points.

Skinner is second in goals (27) and points (48). Okposo is third with 17 goals, and Dahlin tops Buffalo in assists (34).

Buffalo is 0-2-0 against the Panthers this season, losing 7-4 and 6-1.

–Field Level Media