If the Buffalo Sabres are to make a serious push into playoff position, they likely can't afford losing to the few teams below them in the Eastern Conference standings.
The visiting Sabres try to bounce back from a frustrating defeat by handing the lowly Florida Panthers a fourth consecutive loss Thursday night.
Buffalo (13-16-4) was riding a three-game winning streak when it recorded a season-low 14 shots on goal in Tuesday's 2-1 road loss to a Tampa Bay team that dropped its previous three and reeling after the firing of coach Guy Boucher.
One point ahead of the Lightning, the Sabres are 12th in the East and four points behind the New York Rangers for the eighth and final playoff spot.
"No one's going to help us,' said Buffalo's Ryan Miller, who made 21 saves. "We've got to get two points every night, and (the) first two periods didn't speak to what we've been trying to do lately.'
Miller yielded a goal on two shots in the first period. Buffalo managed four shots over the first 20 minutes and didn't score until defenseman Jordan Leopold's second of the year came late in the third.
The Sabres have three goals in two games since scoring at least three in each of the previous five.
"We weren't prepared enough, but the bottom line is we're in a race right now and we desperately needed those points,' Leopold said. "We were on a roll there, too. You look at it, three games without a loss. We get something rolling there and go out and have that.'
It would seem Buffalo has a good chance to rebound against the Panthers (9-19-6), whose nine wins and 24 points are the fewest in the NHL.
The teams split the previous two 2013 meetings that were both decided by 4-3 scores. Buffalo, which won in a shootout at Florida on Feb. 28, has earned at least one point in its last four (3-0-1) at the BB&T Center as part of a 9-2-1 stretch there.
Florida returns from a 2-3-0 trip looking to avoid its second five-game home losing streak of the season.
The Panthers outscored Carolina and the New York Rangers 7-2 to win the first two on the trip, but were outscored 8-3 in losses at New Jersey, the New York Islanders and Toronto.
Florida had 42 shots Tuesday, but allowed two third-period goals to fall for the ninth time in 11 games, 3-2 to the Maple Leafs.
"I thought we deserved a better outcome than this,' said Florida goaltender Jacob Markstrom, who has stopped 62 of 66 shots in the last two losses. "I thought we played a good game and we had a lot of shots on net. We've just got to continue to do that and good things will happen. It's not fun to lose and let three goals in. I felt good but you don't want to lose.'
Florida failed on its only power-play chance Tuesday and is 3 for 27 in 13 games. However, Buffalo's last 11 opponents have gone 12 of 38 with the man advantage.
Panthers rookie Jonathan Huberdeau is tied for the team lead with 12 goals - which also leads all rookies - but has none in nine games. He has only one assist against the Sabres.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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