SUNRISE — It has been over a decade since the Florida Panthers and the Buffalo Sabres found themselves in the same playoff race.
Buffalo missed the playoffs by three points that season to kickstart an 11-year absence from the postseason while Florida edged out the Washington Capitals to win the 2011-12 Southeast Division title.
All these years later, the Sabres head to Sunrise on Tuesday with a real chance to make up ground in the Eastern Conference wild card race and finally put an end to that drought.
As things stand right now, both teams are on the outside looking in.
The Panthers are just one point behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and two points between the New York Islanders for the top wild card spot.
Buffalo, despite sitting four points back of Florida, are not as far back as it seems.
After having multiple games get canceled due to blizzard conditions this winter, the Sabres have two games in hand on the rest of the field and a real chance to make up that ground.
A win over the Panthers would essentially kill two birds with one stone for them in the playoff race.
“I think this is a playoff game for both teams,” Florida coach Paul Maurice said.
”I don’t think we necessarily feel any different than they do when they look at the schedule and say that they have to run the table to get in.
”I think the Islanders, Pittsburgh and ourselves all feel the same way. We can’t play more than one game at a time but you’re not going 1-4 and getting into the playoffs.”
The Sabres will especially be hungry since it has been 10 years since they have even come close to a playoff spot.
And they have finally gotten to a point where teams recognize that they are no longer a bottom feeder anymore.
”They are too dynamic offensively for you to think that you’re just going to move the puck around,” Maurice said.
Led by breakout star Tage Thompson and a slew of top draft picks led by potential Norris Trophy candidate Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo has the third-most goals-for per game (3.59) in the league this season.
Thompson could find himself on some Hart Trophy (MVP) ballots when this season is all said and done after putting up a monster line of 44 goals and 89 points through 72 games.
His combination of size and speed provides a matchup nightmare that the Panthers have to be ready for when he returns to the Buffalo from a lower-body injury against them on Tuesday.
”They’re very good, there’s no doubt about it,” Aaron Ekblad said of Thompson and his linemates Jeff Skinner and Alex Tuch.
”They hold onto the puck which makes them tough. They are not scared to take the hit to make the play so it is important to have good sticks to take away time and space.”
The Panthers will look to continue the momentum of their three-game winning streak with Alex Lyon back in net.
Sergei Bobrovsky will remain out of the starter’s crease with an illness but could back him up if he feels up to it.
Devon Levi will man the crease for the Sabres, facing off with the team that drafted him in his second NHL game.
Sam Bennett remains out with a groin injury. He began skating on Tuesday and could re-join the team for a full practice on Wednesday.
He is likely to remain out until at least Saturday.
PANTHERS ON DECK
BUFFALO SABRES AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida Alternate; ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- DraftKings odds — Panthers favored: Money Line (-190); Puck line (-1.5, +130); Over/Under 7 (-120/+100)
- Season Series (Florida leads 2-1): Panthers 4, Sabres 3 (Oct. 15); Panthers 4, Sabres 1 (Jan. 16); Sabres 3, Panthers 1 (Feb. 24)
- Last season: Florida won 3-0
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 53-45-8, 4 ties
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINEUP
23 Carter Verhaeghe // 16 Sasha Barkov // 10 Anthony Duclair
27 Eetu Luostarinen // 15 Anton Lundell // 19 Matthew Tkachuk
94 Ryan Lomberg // 12 Eric Staal // 13 Sam Reinhart
21 Nick Cousins // 6 Colin White // 54 Givani Smith
42 Gus Forsling // 5 Aaron Ekblad
18 Marc Staal // 62 Brandon Montour
28 Josh Mahura // 7 Radko Gudas
34 Alex Lyon
29 Mack Guzda
Scratched: Casey Fitzgerald
Injured: Patric Hornqvist (LTIR-concussion), Sam Bennett (groin), Sergei Bobrovsky (illness)
PROJECTED BUFFALO SABRES LINEUP
53 Jeff Skinner // 72 Tage Thompson // 89 Alex Tuch
77 John Jason Peterka // 24 Dylan Cozens // 22 Jack Quinn
12 Jordan Greenway // 37 Casey Mittlestadt // 71 Victor Oloffson
28 Zemgus Girgensons // 19 Peyton Krebs // 21 Kyle Okposo
23 Mattias Samuelsson // 26 Rasmus Dahlin
25 Owen Power // 10 Henri Jokiharju
61 Riley Stillman // 46 Ilya Lybushkin
27 Devon Levi
1 Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen