In order to get their early season slide out of the way, the Sabres had to dispatch two of their biggest nemeses. They methodically sent Florida and Roberto Luongo packing with a much-needed win.
Buffalo ended a four-game winless skid Saturday afternoon with a 3-0 victory over the Panthers. It was the Sabres' first regulation win at home against the Panthers since March 25, 2011. Florida entered the day on an 8-0-2 run in KeyBank Center.
The Sabres hung the loss on Luongo, the Panthers goaltender who had thrived against Buffalo. He was 9-1 with four shutouts in the previous 10 appearances.
None of those stats mattered as the Sabres improved to 2-3-2 overall and 1-2 at home.
Goaltending rebound: Anders Nilsson picked up his first victory in a Sabres uniform and the second shutout of his career. The goalie, making his third straight start, was 0-1-1. He stopped 33 shots, including 12 in the second period and 13 in the third. He forced Vincent Trocheck to shoot wide on a penalty shot with 57 seconds left.
Nilsson's first shutout came with the New York Islanders on March 4, 2012.
Special special teams: The Sabres took care of business with men in the box. Buffalo's power-play unit went 2 for 4 and has scored in five of the seven games. The penalty killers went 4 for 4, including two stops during the third period. Florida's power play had scored in four straight games.
Sealed with a kick: Former Sabres defenseman Mark Pysyk lost his helmet midway through the third period, and he was torn between playing on and picking it up. He ended up giving himself time to get it -- while giving the Sabres a 3-0 lead. Sam Reinhart, behind the net, sent the puck to the front an Pysyk kicked it past Luongo. The power-play goal gave Buffalo a 3-0 lead with 11:12 to play.
Going in front: The Sabres took their first lead at home this season when Johan Larsson scored with 7:47 off the clock. The line of Larsson, Marcus Foligno and Brian Gionta built off a great shift by having an even better one. From below the goal line, Gionta sent a diving backhand pass to Larsson in the right circle. His one-timer soared into the top corner for his first goal of the year.
Panther hunter: Kyle Okposo continued to torment Florida, recording a point for the ninth time in his last 11 games against the Panthers. Okposo made it 2-0 with a power-play goal six minutes into the second period. Rasmus Ristolainen sent a floater to the front that bounced off Sam Reinhart’s stick, Luongo’s glove and the post. Okposo swooped in for the rebound and his second goal of the year.
Staying in front: Buffalo led after one period for the first time in their seven games, taking a 1-0 lead with a 10-8 shot edge. The Sabres took a 2-0 lead into the second intermission despite trailing, 20-19, in shots.
Drop it: Ristolainen suffered a double whammy during a first-period power play. The defenseman’s stick broke on a slap shot attempt. He was still holding onto half of it when he threw a check, taking a penalty for playing with a broken stick. Ristolainen had another stick break in the same way during the second period.
Big hit: Sabres defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, playing against his former team for the first time, dropped Derek MacKenzie with a big hip check late in the second period. Shawn Thornton, playing his initial game of the season at age 39, took exception and twice chased the defenseman.
Bad hit: Larsson hit defenseman Jason Demers from behind just 23 seconds into the third period. Larsson went to the box for boarding while Demers went to the dressing room for a checkup. The defenseman returned quickly.
Nowak honored: The NHL, Sabres and Panthers celebrated the 1,500th game of linesman Tim Nowak in a pregame ceremony. The Buffalo native’s family members took the ice. Stephen Walkom, the NHL’s director of officiating, presented Nowak with a commemorative crystal. The Sabres and Panthers handed Nowak autographed sticks.
Next: The Sabres have 19 sets of back-to-back games this season, and they’ll complete the first series at 3 p.m. Sunday when they visit Winnipeg. The Jets are 4-4 this season, including 3-2 at home. They are coming off a 1-0 shutout of Colorado.
Buffalo is expected to start goaltender Robin Lehner. He served as the backup Saturday after missing two games with an illness. Lehner is 1-2-1 with a .892 save percentage.