SUNRISE — For better or worse, the Florida Panthers keep finding themselves in position to have to make big comebacks.
Seemingly night after night.
After making two four-goal comebacks in their previous three games, the Panthers had to rally again on Friday — although it was only from two-goals down — as they beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 on Friday night.
With the win, the Panthers go into Saturday’s game in Nashville with an eight-point lead on Toronto in the Atlantic and six ahead of Carolina for the top spot in the East.
The Panthers may not be playing their best, but they are certainly not paying any sort of price.
Friday, Buffalo ran out to a 3-1 lead, and as has been the case against the Panthers lately, it did not last long.
Florida outshot the Sabres 30-17 and out-chanced them 28-5 during the final two periods to take control and come back for yet another win.
“The start wasn’t ideal,” Panthers coach Andrew Brunette said. “I think we felt our way through the first period a little bit.
“We took over in the second period, but they were a tired team. It’s a little bit concerning going down 3-1; We didn’t play poorly, but maybe not at the level we normally play at.”
The lackadaisical starts have been cause for concern for the Panthers.
During their latest comebacks, the Panthers were outscored by a combined eight goals during the first half of the games.
“If this happens in the playoffs, we lose the game,” Patric Hornqvist said.
“We have to try to get better every game because we have a big stretch here coming up and we have to make sure we do the right things.”
With the Panthers having a playoff spot locked up, it could be easy to take a night or two off.
Florida earned its 50th win for the first time in franchise history on Friday and now has an eight-point lead for first place in the Atlantic Division.
For a coach, however, trying to get your team playing the right way can be a challenge.
As much fun as these comeback wins have been for Florida’s fans, players and coaches know things need to tighten up.
“It has a hard time of the year,” Brunette said.
“Your focus is drifting a little bit, there are individual things. The playoffs are lurking around the corner, there are all kinds of distractions right now and, as a player, it’s hard to dial in.”
The Panthers did come out ready for the second period.
They outshot the Sabres 17-3 and out-chanced them 15-1 and it culminated in yet another comeback.
Hornqvist got creative after Dustin Tokarski made a save, banking the puck in off the Buffalo goalie’s back to make it a one-goal game midway through the second.
Five minutes later, Sam Reinhart scored on his old teammates, knocking in Sasha Barkov’s shot from the high slot.
With the Panthers controlling play for most of the third period, it stayed quiet scoring-wise.
Tokarski came up with some big saves on a Florida team that had five high-danger chances in the period, but at the end, it was not enough.
Barkov found Sam Bennett in front of the net with 37.5 seconds to go to put Florida on top.
It was Bennett’s 100th goal and 200th point — and one he will remember.
“Scoring the game-winning goal is most important,” Bennett said. “Obviously it is a great feeling scoring 100 [goals] as well. It was a great feeling scoring that one,”
Brunette trusted Bennett to be out there with Florida’s two big guns: Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau.
It paid off.
“When you’re on the ice with those two guys, something special is going to happen,” Bennett said. “That was an easy one for me to sit back door and wait for Barkov to send it over to me.”