SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers were holding a 2-1 lead on the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night when Anton Lundell took a tripping penalty with 1:13 remaining in the game.
With 12.2 seconds left, Aaron Ekblad was also called for tripping — giving Buffalo a 5-on-3 advantage and one last big chance at forcing overtime.
With goalie Devon Levi pulled to the bench, the desperate Sabres had six skaters on the ice; Florida countered with three not including goalie Alex Lyon.
”It was very nerve-wracking, for sure,” said Radko Gudas, who joined Sasha Barkov and Marc Staal on the ice deep in the Florida zone for those harrowing final seconds.
“We have strong confidence in everyone out there. The penalty kill is doing it for a reason. Barky did a great job of reading the play, putting the pressure on the guys with the puck. It was a big stop by Alex at the end. We battled the whole game.”
These 6-on-3 power play chances do not happen very often in the NHL because it is rare a team would pull their goalie with a two-man advantage.
Unless, of course, it happens in the final minutes of a game the team with the power play advantage is losing.
Which, is what happened in this case.
Simply put, the Sabres had nothing to lose and everything to gain from throwing everything they had at the Panthers.
Ultimately, they did not have enough time to make it work.
Fortunately for the Panthers, Buffalo only had the three-man advantage for 12.2 seconds. They did not use it all that well.
Buffalo’s Jeff Skinner won the faceoff against Barkov and the Sabres initially kept the puck in the zone. But Rasmus Dahlin fired off a shot from 40 feet out which was stopped, the puck came out deep and the Sabres never recovered it.
”They knew time was running out,’’ Gudas said, “and we used that to our advantage. A 6-on-3 is never fun to defend but we held our ground and got the two points.’’
The horn sounded giving the Panthers a 2-1 victory which bolstered their playoff hopes.
Had Buffalo scored, not only would the game have gone to overtme, but the Sabres would have continued on the power play — it would have been a more manageable 4-on-3, but still — into the extra session.
“They have some shooters, good personnel and you never know,” said Brandon Montour, who was watching all the chaos from the bench. “Guys made some big blocks … it was nice to hear the buzzer ring.’’
Added Gudas: “Same relief. We knew there were less than 15 seconds left, so once we got it out of the zone, we wanted to put on the pressure and hold the line. Time would play in our advantage if we could get it out. It was a great relief and a better feeling in the room.”
Florida coach Paul Maurice said he and his staff could not remember being part of such a lopsided power play opportunity.
In 2014, however, his Winnipeg Jets did indeed have to kill off a 6-on-3 although the circumstances were very different.
The Jets were leading Colorado 5-1 with 13:51 remaining in the third period on Dec. 5, 2014 when the Avalanche got a 5-on-3 power play for 1:37.
Coach Patrick Roy brought goalie Reto Berra to the bench — but the Jets held firm as Michael Hutchinson (who gave up seven goals to the Panthers on Saturday night in Columbus) made five saves to keep Colorado off the board.
It was not a 6-on-3 in the final seconds of a game with so much on the line for both teams which is perhaps why Maurice did not recall it.
“In our room, nobody knows, no one had seen it,” Maurice said on Wednesday. “We can’t remember that ever happening. We went from having a 5-on-4 with 2 1/2 minutes left to being down two men. We have had a whole lot of unusual things happen to us this season. Par for the course.”
A day after Florida held off the Sabres, Maurice was able to deconstruct what led to the furious finish in the first place.
With 2:31 left, Buffalo’s Mattias Samuelsson was called for holding and the Panthers, holding a 2-1 lead, were on the power play.
Only the Sabres played with their hair on fire and the kept the Panthers from controlling the puck in the offensive zone by contesting every pass. Buffalo even had a nice shorthanded chance which Lyon stopped.
”We wanted to run with structure, but they weren’t running anything,’’ Maurice said of the Sabres. “They were just pressing the puck and we didn’t handle that perfectly. I would almost rather run 5-on-5 there instead of 5-on-4 and look for structure.’’
Then Lundell was called for his penalty which ended Florida’s power play chance with 11 seconds remaining in Samuelsson’s infraction.
Ekblad going to the box in the final seconds did not help things out.
The Panthers knew Buffalo would bring a full-on assault in the final minute, but they certainly did not need to help the Sabres out as much as they did.
“I was alright with Lundell’s penalty because I thought that was sold and I understand the call,” Maurice said.
“We have to stay out of the box on the second one. We have to a little bit more diligent. You get 5-on-5 in that situation and they pull the goalie, rarely is a penalty called. It is a war at the net front and everyone understands that. We just have to be smarter with our sticks.”
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.