Panthers visit Buffalo with eye on road history

By Thomson Reuters Feb 15, 2024 | 2:33 AM

The Florida Panthers will try to extend their road winning streak into double digits when they visit the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday.

The Panthers’ nine-game road streak has already established a club record and put Florida within range of league history. The 2014-15 Minnesota Wild and 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings share the record of 12 consecutive away victories in a season, and only 10 NHL teams have had road win streaks of 10 or more games in a season.

Between the road dominance and a 16-8-2 record at home, the Panthers are two points behind the Boston Bruins for first place in both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference.

It took Florida a little while to get going on Wednesday in a 5-2 away win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, as the teams combined for only seven shots in a scoreless first period. Matthew Tkachuk’s goal at 4:28 of the second period opened the floodgates, as the Panthers scored three more times in the next 8:34.

The game’s slow start was somewhat by design. Tkachuk said that he and linemates Sam Bennett and Nick Cousins deployed an early strategy of “try and get as many hits as we can and try to wear their (defense) out.

“I think especially come playoff time … but especially at the start of games, (we’re) trying to be probably overly physical and hoping that teams wear down by the end of the series.”

Tkachuk had a goal and two assists at Pittsburgh, continuing his outstanding play over the past six weeks. The forward has 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists) over his past 19 games.

Florida is 15-4-1 in its past 20 games against the Sabres dating back to the 2016-17 season. The Panthers are also 15-4-3 in their past 22 visits to Buffalo.

Despite that history and Florida’s 22-point lead over Buffalo in the standings, the Sabres enter the Thursday game riding the momentum of their best victory of the season. Eleven Sabres players recorded at least one point in Buffalo’s 7-0 rout of the visiting Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday.

“I think getting the lead was the most important thing. … From a winning standpoint it’s kind of been a problem for us,” goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen said. “We’ve been giving the first goal away. You can look at the stats and it’s a huge thing in a game, who gets the first goal.”

The Sabres are 17-3-1 when scoring first in games this season, yet only the New Jersey Devils have scored first in fewer games than Buffalo.

Just one score is all a team might need when it has a hot goalie. Luukkonen is expected to start again Thursday after posting three shutouts, a .941 save percentage and a 1.60 goals against average over his past 12 games.

Since Sergei Bobrovsky faced the Penguins on Wednesday, Anthony Stolarz probably will start in the second half of the Panthers’ back-to-back set. Stolarz has been superb as Bobrovsky’s backup this season, logging a 2.11 GAA and a .917 save percentage over 16 games (14 starts).

The Panthers are 3-0-1 in the second game of back-to-backs this season.

Buffalo forward JJ Peterka has seven points (five goals, two assists) in his past five games.

Casey Mittelstadt leads the Sabres with 43 points (12 goals, 31 points).

–Field Level Media