The third period was the charm for the Panthers in Tuesday night’s 5-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
Entering with the NHL’s worst scoring margin in third periods, 42-23 through the first 31 games, the Panthers piled up four goals in the final frame to open a critical road trip with their second consecutive win.
“We’re learning from our mistakes,” coach Bob Boughner said. “I think we are getting more mature in those situations.”
Evgenii Dadonov had two goals and an assist during the third period surge, Aleksander Barkov and Frank Vatrano had the other goals and the Panthers improved to 13-13-6 overall and 3-6-2 in when trailing after two periods.
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“We just wore them down,” Vatrano said. “We kept it a simple game. Got pucks deep, were solid in our defensive zone. I think it was just a simple game that we played, which was why we were so dominant.”
Troy Brouwer had a goal in the second period and Roberto Luongo made 30 saves as the Panthers beat the Sabres for a seventh time in a row.
Coming off a 4-3 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, the Panthers have won consecutive games for the first time since going on a five-game streak at the start of November. Tuesday started a stretch of four games in six days that continues Thursday at Toronto and concludes with a weekend back-to-back at Detroit and Chicago.
“It’s huge,” Keith Yandle said. “We know we’ve got to string together games here and we know it’s a tough trip. We’ve got business to take care of before the Christmas break.”
Starting the third period on a power play that began with 51 seconds left in the third, the Panthers scored three times in as pan of 3:44 to turn a one-goal deficit into a two-goal lead.
Barkov deflected Yandle’s shot past Hutton for the tying goal in the opening minute of the third period. It was the only power play goal in three chances for the Panthers, who lead the NHL in converting 28 of 83 opportunities (33.7 percent) with the man-advantage since Nov. 1.
Dadonov put the Panthers ahead 3-2 on a penalty shot 3:30 into the third period. After stripping the puck from Buffalo’s star rookie defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, Dadonov was tripped by Dahlin on a breakaway. He then beat Carter Hutton with a close-range snap shot that got stuck in the goaltender’s pads before squirting into the goal.
“Sometimes it takes a bounce to get your team going and I think that one really helped us,” Yandle said.
Vatrano made it 4-2 just 1:12 later when he drove the net and knocked in a backhand off the rebound from Dadonov’s looping wraparound shot.
Dadonov batted the puck from the blue line into an empty net for with 2:30 remaining to pass Barkov and Mike Hoffman for the team lead with 16 goals.
The Panthers killed three penalties in the first two periods and haven’t allowed a power-play goal over their last seven games.
“We talk about it before every game,” Vitrano said. “Special teams can win you a hockey game.”
Luongo stopped 16 shots in the second period to keep the Panthers in the game. His best save came on an early Sabres power play when spun around swiped the puck off the goal line with his glove after Sam Reinhart poked it between his pads. Luongo made another spectacular stop later in the period when he kicked away a Jack Eichel one-timer with his right pad.
Brouwer broke his 12-game goal drought to tie the score at 1-1 midway through the second period. Jared McCann missed wide on a shot from the point and the puck bounced off the end boards to the right side of the net, where Brouwer banked it in off of Sabres goaltender Carter Hutton’s skate.
The Sabres took the lead back less than two minutes later when Rasmus Ristolainen skated through Aaron Ekblad’s stick check and slipped the puck between Luongo’s glove and the right post from a tight angle.
The Panthers emphasized being the aggressors on the road, “to create your own storm that they have to weather,” defenseman Mike Matheson said following the morning skate, but it was the Sabres who forced the action early.
Florida didn’t put a shot on goal in the first three minutes and Buffalo’s forechecking against the Panthers’ top defensive pair led to 1-0 advantage 3:48 into the game.
Sam Reinhart took the puck away from Aaron Ekblad along the end boards and Yandle allowed a clear path for the NHL’s second-leading scorer Jeff Skinner to receive a pass from Jack Eichel in front of the net and lifted the puck over Luongo’s left pad for his 25th goal.