SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers made up some key ground in the Eastern Conference wild card race with a intense 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night.
Matthew Tkachuk gave Florida its first and final lead of the night with his 39th goal of the season 59 seconds into the third period and Alex Lyon held on for his fourth win in a row since Sergei Bobrovsky came out of the lineup with an illness.
Devon Levi did all he could to keep up with Lyon in what was an intense goalie duel with 34 saves in his second NHL start against the team that drafted him in 2020 and traded him to Buffalo in 2021.
Alex Tuch appeared to have given the Sabres the early lead on their first shot of the game 3:42 in but it was taken off the board quickly.
Panthers coach Paul Maurice caught the Buffalo forward offside on the play and challenged it to get the call reversed upon review.
Dylan Cozens gave the Sabres the lead for real with a power play goal from above the circle five minutes later.
The first continued to be a sloppy, penalty-filled period from there.
Tyson Jost played the puck with his hand and was nabbed for a face-off violation to give Florida the power play right after but they could not capitalize.
They finally did on their third power play of the period when Aaron Ekblad struck with a shot that took a funky bounce off the post and Levi’s blocker and in.
That was the last goal either goalie let up for a while.
Levi started off the second-period goalie battle with a sprawling save on a Anthony Duclair one-time shot 2:49 into the frame.
Neither goalie gave the other team an inch for the rest of the period.
Levi stopped all 12 shots he faced in the second while Alex Lyon stopped all eight shots the Sabres got on him.
Tkachuk broke the deadlock just 59 seconds into the third period with a deflection of a Brandon Montour shot and the Panthers held on from there.
He had a shot at his 40th of the season on the breakaway to seal the deal with 3:36 to go but Levi answered with a big save to keep Buffalo in it.
Lyon shut down the Sabres and finished the game with 40 saves to give Florida the crucial win.
The Panthers jumped into the top wild card spot in the Eastern Conference by virture of a tiebreaker over the New York Islanders.
A 5-1 Pittsburgh Penguins loss in New Jersey gave Florida the upper hand in the wild card race and a chance for them to control their own destiny with four games remaining on their regular season slate.
GOALS OF THE GAME
- Sabres 1, Panthers 0 (8:58, 1st, PPG): Dylan Cozens beat Alex Lyon with a wrist shot from above the face-off circle on the power play.
- Panthers 1, Sabres 1 (15:47, 1st, PPG): Aaron Ekblad sends a knuckler off the post and off Devon Levi‘s blocker into the net to tie the game on the power play.
- Panthers 2, Sabres 1 (0:59, 3rd): Matthew Tkachuk deflects a Brandon Montour shot past Levi to give Florida the lead.
COLBY’S 3 STARS OF THE GAME
1. Alex Lyon, Florida (39 saves)
2. Brandon Montour, Florida (two assists)
3. Devon Levi, Buffalo (34 saves)
PANTHERS ON DECK
OTTAWA SENATORS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Season Series (Tied 1-1): Panthers 5, Senators 3 (Oct. 29); Senators 5, Panthers 2 (Mar. 27)
- Last season: Florida won 3-1
- All-time regular season series: Ottawa leads 57-43-5, 3 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Florida at Washington, Saturday, 7 p.m.