Sabres vs. Panthers Preview
BUFFALO, NY (AP) - The Buffalo Sabres are healthy for the first time in weeks and seem poised to gain ground in the Northeast Division. Continuing their recent dominance of the Florida Panthers would be a step in the right direction.
Buffalo seeks its third win in four games Friday night when it travels to face the Panthers, who are coming off one of their most difficult losses this season.
Drew Stafford returned to the Sabres lineup after missing four games with a shoulder injury Wednesday and had a hat trick in a 3-2 win against Boston.
According to NHL odds and oddsmakers from online sports book SBGGlobal.com have made the Sabres -108 money line favorites for Friday's game against the Panthers. Current NHL Public Betting Information shows that 51% of more than 63 bets for this game have been placed on the Panthers +100.
The injury also caused Stafford to miss 11 games from Nov. 11-Dec. 3, but he seems fully recovered this time.
"He's a skilled player that you're hoping to get offense from," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "It gives us that extra dimension. He's strong, and has a great shot. I said coming out of training camp I think he was our best player."
Tim Connolly returned from a groin injury and defenseman Rob Niedermayer also is back after knee surgery. The pair missed eight games each.
Buffalo (13-14-4) is 4-1-1 in its last six games, but the win against the second-place Bruins helped bring the Sabres to within six points of Boston in the division.
Ryan Miller made his eighth straight start after missing two games with a groin injury, and made 32 saves. He's 5-2-1 with a 1.98 goals-against average since returning to the lineup.
"We know we're a good team and we can win games," Miller said. "It's up to us to stay patient. I thought we had a great presence."
If Miller carries his success over into Florida - where the Sabres have won six of their last seven against the Panthers - Buffalo may continue its winning ways. Miller is 8-2-0 with a 1.99 GAA against Florida in his last 10 starts.
The Panthers (13-16-0) have lost two straight after a season-high three-game winning streak, squandering a three-goal lead in Wednesday's 4-3 loss to Carolina. "It's inexcusable to lose a lead like that. There's no sugar-coating it," Panthers coach Pete DeBoer said. "We didn't get the right plays at the right times from our goaltender on out. We've got to find a way to fix it because those things don't happen to good teams."
Tomas Vokoun, who made 30 saves, had a key turnover late in the third period that led to the winning goal. He hasn't fared much better against the Sabres, going 1-6-1 with a 3.11 GAA in his last eight starts.
"This is one of the toughest games I''ve lost in my career," Vokoun said. "There's no words that can describe it. It was my mistake and you can't make that mistake at that point in time. I'm disappointed in myself."
David Booth hasn't scored a point in three games for the Panthers, who have lost six of seven overall to the Sabres. Booth is tied with Stephen Weiss for second on the team with 16 points, one behind Michael Frolik.