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Sabres vs. Panthers preview

 Photo courtesy of the Buffalo Sabres

blog by Dan Ludwig  • 

I’m probably not the only one thinking that the Sabres’ 5-4 overtime loss versus the Flyers on Wednesday night was one of this season’s toughest pills to swallow. Buffalo jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the first period, but by the end of the second stanza, Philadelphia had scored four unanswered goals and had the lead. Even though Drew Stafford’s goal with under two minutes left sent the game to overtime, Philly pushed the winning score across the goal line in the extra period—a truly disheartening loss for Sabres supporters.

Buffalo Sabres players and fans alike will try to forget the most recent loss as the Florida Panthers skate into town for a 7:30 p.m. face-off tonight at the First Niagara Center.  In two games against each other this season, Florida and Buffalo have each taken home a win, so tonight can be considered the rubber match in their 2011 series.

Tonight will be Ryan Miller’s third game in the lineup after returning from a concussion.  The Sabres are 1-1 since his return—here’s hoping that Miller can get a few more wins under his belt to restore his confidence.

A bright spot for the Sabres has been the play of Zack Kassian. The first-year forward has tallied five points (three goals, two assists) in six games for Buffalo.  Although this isn’t exactly a torrid pace compared to the NHL’s best scorers, Kassian’s production has been a pleasant surprise, because the Sabres most likely called up the youngster for his physical presence.

At the other end of the rink, the Panthers have been playing well this season.  Their 36 points puts them atop the Southeast Division and ties them for fourth place in the conference.  Florida’s success this season can be credited to their defensive efforts—the Panthers have allowed 69 goals this season, only the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins have allowed less.

To add to Buffalo’s stress, Florida is streaking, with seven wins in their last 10 games.  Add this to Buffalo’s 3-5-2 record in their last ten tilts, and tonight’s face-off is a tale of two teams going in the opposite direction as the new year approaches.

Prediction:
Sadly, Buffalo has been playing poorly inside the FN Center (6-8-2 at home).  Combine this with the fact that Florida is one of the better road teams in the conference (10-6 in other team’s arenas), and Buffalo may be in for a rough night.  Florida wins tonight, 3-1.

Photo courtesy of the Buffalo Sabres

TAGGED: buffalo sabres, florida panthers, fn center, nhl hockey, ryan miller, zack kassian

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