SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — The Sabres missed a chance to gain precious ground in the wild card race Tuesday, dropping a 2-1 decision to a Florida Panthers team that sat just above them in the playoff hunt.
Matthew Tkachuk snapped a tie in the opening minute of the third period to power the Panthers to their fourth consecutive victory.
It’s the longest win streak of the season for the Panthers (40-31-7), who moved into a tie with the New York Islanders for the top spot in the Eastern Conference wild-card standings. Florida owns the first tiebreaker because of its regulation wins. The Sabres (37-32-7) are six points behind the Panthers and Islanders. The Sabres have six games left.
Dylan Cozens scored for Buffalo, which had won four of five. Devon Levi, a seventh-round pick by Florida who was traded to Buffalo in 2021, made 34 saves in his first loss in two NHL starts.
“It was a tight game and we had chances to convert all the way to the end,” Buffalo coach Don Granato said. “It didn’t happen, so obviously there’s some frustration and aggravation involved in that.”
Cozens scored on a Buffalo power play 8:58 into the first period. It was his 29th goal of the season.
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Aaron Ekblad also scored for Florida, and Alex Lyon made 39 saves for his fourth straight win.
Pittsburgh is one point behind Florida and New York with four games left for each team.
“I think it is just easier playing with the lead so getting that second goal, giving ourselves a lead was huge for us,’’ Tkachuk said. “Giving up the first goal pretty early, we settled into our game and … it was pretty even and just back-and-forth. Both goalies were great. We capitalized on strong, hard plays in the third and Lyon made some big saves.”
Ekblad tied it with a power-play goal with 4:13 remaining in the first. Ekblad’s shot clipped the goal cage and deflected off Levi on its way to the back of the net.
After a scoreless second, Tkachuk deflected in a Brandon Montour shot from inside the blue line 59 seconds into the third.
“I thought there was good compete. Both teams had tension on them and you could feel it in how they moved the puck,’’ Florida coach Paul Maurice said. “You had the third- and fifth-highest scoring teams in the league playing goalies who are third and fourth on their depth charts and two of the best players on the ice were the goalies. It was a goalie duel. Both guys made big saves, scrambled and found pucks.”
With his assist on Cozens’ goal, Tage Thompson became the 10th player in Sabres history to hit 90 points in a single season. He is the first to accomplish the feat since Daniel Briere had 95 points during the 2006-07 season. … Florida was again without the services of G Sergei Bobrovsky (illness) and C Sam Bennett (lower-body injury). Bobrovsky has missed the past four games for Florida; Bennett the past eight.
Sabres visit the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night.