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Frustration With the Florida Panthers Starts With Themselves

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Matthew tkachuk panthers
Matthew Tkachuk was pretty ticked off — with himself and his team’s performance — in the aftermath of a 3-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night in Sunrise. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

As the horn sounded, officially putting an end to another Florida Panthers loss — this one 3-1 to the Buffalo Sabres — Matthew Tkachuk went after Jeff Skinner along the half wall and appeared ready to throw down with anyone who wanted to dance.

It was frustration, plain and simple.

Skinner scored twice on Friday night as the Sabres handled the Panthers in a game both teams needed to stay in the thick of the playoff race.

Buffalo seemed to have no ill affects from playing three games in the span of four nights.

The Panthers were well-rested and, while there were plenty of handy excuses, should have handled their business on home ice.

Instead, they did not.

The discontent was mostly with themselves.

“Losing an important, four-point game like that, yeah; that is always frustrating,” said Tkachuk, as he struggled to untie the knot on his skate inside a mostly-empty Florida locker room.

”I think that is what everyone is frustrated about. We did not play great in the first two periods, then you saw them sit back in the third and we were able to generate some more.’’

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For the past couple of days, the Panthers talked a great game.

Each and every one of their remaining contests were meaningful, they said, each one had to be considered a playoff game.

Very quotable.

Then came Friday night, a game against a team Florida is competing with for one of the two remaining postseason slots in the Eastern Conference.

The Panthers’ bark was much worse than their bite.

As has been for the entire season, quite honestly.

“This was a huge home game and it is really disappointing to have the first two periods like that,’’ Carter Verhaeghe said. “We’re in a playoff push and there is nothing we can do about it now. We have to be ready moving forward.”

Buffalo came to Sunrise on a late night flight to Fort Lauderdale. It was a short jaunt from Tampa but the Sabres flew down either on a mission or with nothing to lose.

The Sabres have not been to the playoffs since 2011, the longest active postseason drought in the NHL.

They appeared hungry on Friday.

The Panthers, who are the reigning-but-certainly-not-defending NHL Presidents’ Trophy champions, seemed blasé about the matchup.

Winning six straight against the Sabres, and perhaps not taking them as seriously as they should have, was costly.

To make the playoffs, the Panthers have to go on a run we have not seen them go on all season.

This is a team, after all, which has won three straight just once.

Now they are being asked to win 15 or 16 out of the final 22 just for the experience of facing the Bruins in the first round.

Good luck making it to the playoffs.

Better luck getting to Game 6 before summer comes.

The Panthers did not seem to have their hearts completely into Friday’s game and perhaps it was due to knowing they were missing two of their top centers or losing Spencer Knight earlier in the day.

Regardless, they did not appear to be a desperate team when it came to playing a key game against the Sabres.

The two played a scoreless first — one the Panthers could have been up 2-0 in had it not been for Nick Cousins missing an empty net or Grigori Denisenko clanking a breakaway chance.

In the second, Buffalo scored twice. With the way Craig Anderson warmed up as the game went along in front of a ton of friends and family, it never felt like the Panthers were going to get back into this one.

Which is what happened.

Down 2-0 in the third, Verhaeghe scored and it appeared the Panthers were really pressing and putting the pressure on Anderson and his Sabres.

But minutes later, Skinner got his second of the night to make it 3-1 and the air was out of that balloon.

The Panthers certainly did not quit. In all, Anderson faced 54 shots on goal and 27 in the third period.

But Florida likely could have come out strong from the start and perhaps put this game down before the Sabres started feeling it.

“Our first two periods were not great,’’ Verhaeghe said. “You give a team like that a 2-0 lead and it is tough to come back. That’s what happened. We have to come out right the next game. …

“This was a huge home game and it is really disappointing to have the first two periods like that. It sucks. We’re in a playoff push and there is nothing we can do about it now. We have to be ready moving forward.”

As things stand right now, the Panthers are tied for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with Detroit and the Sabres — and both of those teams having  played four fewer games.

That means both teams have eight potential points in the bank on the Panthers.

Florida has another must-win game — almost all of the final 21 fall into that category now — on Tuesday in Tampa.

Again, good luck.

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