SUNRISE, Fla. — There was no fun in the sun for the Buffalo Sabres’ new goaltending tandem the last two nights. This trip was nothing but hard work.
The Sabres fell to the Florida Panthers, 2-0, Friday before a generously announced crowd of 14,402 in BB&T Center. But Michal Neuvirth did all he could in making 42 saves – one shy of his career high – in his first game with the Sabres after being acquired from Washington.
The Panthers got power-play goals from Jesse Winchester in the first period and Dmitry Kulikov in the third, and that was enough for Roberto Luongo to post 25 saves and get a shutout in his first game for Florida since 2006.
Jhonas Enroth made 43 saves for Buffalo in Thursday’s 3-1 win in Tampa Bay, meaning the goalies stopped 85 of 88 shots in the two games. The Sabres were outshot, 44-21, in Tampa and by 44-25 here.
Neuvirth was strong in the crease and had control of virtually every potential rebound. He even stopped a penalty shot in the second period, as Sean Bergeinheim got too close trying to deke.
“I was just trying to stay patient,” Neuvirth said. “He faked a shot. I went to my butterfly and he was trying to go around me. The last thing I had left was a pokecheck and I got him.”
The Sabres headed home immediately after the game and will host the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks Sunday night in First Niagara Center. It will be the first game downtown for South Buffalo native Patrick Kane and the Hawks since Oct. 11, 2010.
Buffalo lost another player as defenseman Alexander Sulzer suffered a lower-body injury late in the first period. Coach Ted Nolan said he will miss 1-2 weeks and a blueliner will be called up from Rochester. The likely choices are newly acquired Rostislav Klesla, Mark Pysyk or Chad Ruhwedel.
The Sabres played the final two periods two men short as the Winchester goal came following a boarding major and game misconduct issued to Marcus Foligno just 6:16 into the first period.
Foligno was working the wall and killing a penalty when he hit Brandon Pirri from behind into the top of the boards – although Pirri appeared to turn his back before the hit.
“That’s my job as a forward to pressure up the wall so he doesn’t come back down with it and he turned at the last second,” Foligno said. “Really I thought I let up on the play. I could have hit him a lot harder if I wanted to.”
“I thought maybe two minutes,” said Nolan. “A five and lose another guy like him? It’s tough.
“The kid kind of turned and you look on the bench and he’s laughing five minutes later. So with those type of things, players have to take some kind of respect factor too that just don’t turn into things and pretend they got hurt.”
Winchester beat Neuvirth high to the glove side at 11:11 of the first period – with just five seconds left on the Foligno major. Dmitry Kulikov rifled home a slapshot from the point at 4:04 of the third with Matt D’Agostini in the box for high sticking.
Neuvirth had not played since before the Olympics but you sure couldn’t tell.
“First time for a new team, for sure I was nervous,” Neuvirth said.
“I thought he was very calm,” countered Nolan.
Luongo posted his fourth shutout of the season and 66th of his career, second to Martin Brodeur among active goalies. His best save came when he stoned Tyler Ennis on a rebound during a second-period power play when the score was still 1-0.
“I just wanted to have a good game, to be honest with you,” Luongo said. “I thought the boys played really hard for 60 minutes. Kudos to all the guys in front of me tonight. It was really a team effort.”
The Sabres kept Neuvirth busy because they were in penalty trouble all night as the Panthers went 2 for 8 on the power play.
“We shot ourselves in the foot,” said defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. “It’s the second game in two nights and you take that many penalties, it takes a lot of energy out of you.”
Neuvirth had plenty of energy in the crease in what easily ranks as his best moment of the year. He claimed it was only top-3. Everyone in the house watching knew it was better.
“A loss is a loss,” Neuvirth said. “It’s frustrating when you don’t win.”