The Florida Panthers are finally feeling some confidence as they begin their first lengthy road trip of the season.
Their first opponent on the four-game trek may not know what to make of its own play.
The inconsistent Buffalo Sabres try to bounce back from an ugly loss as they play their second matinee in as many days Sunday against the Panthers.
Florida (2-5-0) followed up its surprising Southeast Division title from last season with a convincing win over Carolina in its 2012-13 opener, but it lost its next five contests by a combined 23-5.
A huge third-period surge finally stopped the bleeding Thursday. Trailing midway through the last 20 minutes against Winnipeg, the Panthers scored four unanswered goals to beat the Jets 6-3, with Peter Mueller and Alex Kovalev posting power-play tallies to put the team ahead.
"We did some good things out there previous games and we knew we were moving in the right direction and if we were just going to keep pushing eventually it was going to turn around," Kovalev said.
The Sabres (3-4-1) also scored four straight goals in the third period to win 7-4 at Boston on Thursday, but they certainly didn't have any residual momentum Saturday in Montreal. They were outshot 15-1 in the first period, eventually falling behind 4-0 in the second en route to a 6-1 defeat.
Ryan Miller allowed four goals for the third straight game and was removed after 40 minutes.
"We didn't have our 'A' game right off the bat. We started in the second but it was too late," coach Lindy Ruff said. "It's a collective effort. You can't point fingers at anybody."
Plenty of people are pointing fingers at Thomas Vanek for positive reasons. He scored again Saturday - his first short-handed goal since 2008 - to give him seven goals along with nine assists in seven games.
His point total equals Florida's goal total through seven contests.
The Panthers are hoping their improved play in their most recent game combined with a weeklong trip will help them find a groove, although they have lost each of their three road games by at least three goals. They are the NHL's only team still without any points on the road.
"We looked at this trip as a big part of our season. That we can get out and start establishing that cohesiveness that's really important," coach Kevin Dineen told his team's official website. "We've had a few snapshot trips here and there but for the most part this is one where you actually get out and spend some time on the road. I think it's good timing for it."
Kris Versteeg's return to the scoresheet couldn't have come soon enough. The Panthers' leader in points per game last season, Versteeg had a goal and an assist Thursday in his second game after missing the first five contests with a groin injury.
Florida is still dealing with some injury problems. Captain Ed Jovanovski (knee) won't be on this trip, while Scottie Upshall (ankle) left Thursday's game after getting hurt in a fight and could miss several weeks.
Center Stephen Weiss (groin) has been out for the last four games, but he returned to the top line in practice Friday.
The Associated Press News Service
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