The Buffalo Sabres started and finished with penalties. Both situations could be costly.
Four penalties in the first period helped send the Sabres to a 4-2 loss Thursday night. The Florida Panthers scored three times in the opening 15 minutes, including twice on the power play to take control.
Things got out of control late. The teams combined for 66 penalty minutes in the last 2:01 as bodies and gloves dropped.
The referees whistled Sabres center Johan Larsson for the most flagrant foul in KeyBank Center. After an extended pushing and trash-talking session between Buffalo's Jake McCabe and Florida's Vincent Trocheck, Larsson cross-checked Trocheck in the side of the jaw.
Officials gave Larsson a five-minute major for cross-checking and match penalty for deliberately attempting to injury the opponent. A suspension or fine is possible, if not probable.
Johan Larsson cross-checks Trocheck in the face: pic.twitter.com/m1b7mmcAWz
— Cats On The Prowl (@Cats0ntheprowl) February 2, 2018
"I just heard something going on there, so I skated up there," Larsson said. "The guy came right at me, and I pushed him a little bit, got a little scrum. I didn't know I got a five. No, I'm not worried at all" about a possible suspension.
Though it had been chippy most of the night, tempers flared after Florida extended its lead to 4-2 with 2:24 to play. After that, the refs rang up two fighting majors, three 10-minute misconducts, an interference major, an unsportsmanlike conduct, a roughing penalty and Larsson's infractions.
"After that fourth one went in, it's tough," Sabres right wing Kyle Okposo said. "It was an emotional game. It was a physical game. Tempers were flaring on both sides and, hey, that's hockey."
While Larsson's hit will automatically be reviewed by the NHL, the league may take a look at Evander Kane, too. He picked up 17 minutes in penalties, but it may not amount to more than that.
After Florida's Aleksander Barkov made a pass in the Sabres' zone, he pinballed from Buffalo defenseman Marco Scandella to Kane. The left winger appeared to be watching the pass as he barreled into Barkov, flattening the winger.
Florida's Nick Bjugstad sought retaliation against Kane, who got two minutes for roughing, five minutes for interference and a 10-minute misconduct.
"I was shocked," Kane said of the major penalty. "I don't know which one of our D-men hit Barkov, but I was just skating back into the zone – coasting – and the guy just went down and I fell over top of him.
"I wasn't even watching. I was just watching the puck. I wasn't even watching the two guys make contact there, and I just kind of collided accidentally. I was definitely surprised to get a five. Down two goals with two minutes left, I want to be on the ice trying to score goals. I definitely don’t think a five-minute was warranted."
The Panthers saw things differently in regard to Kane and the late-game fireworks.
"It mostly came from Kane kind of running around and being stupid," Florida defenseman Keith Yandle said.
Kane watched from the dressing room as Larsson hit Trocheck and McCabe fought Alexander Petrovic with 35 seconds left, and Micheal Haley jumped the Sabres' Zemgus Girgensons with three seconds to play.
"I like the guys sticking together and competing and fighting back," Kane said. "We've got to find ways to create emotion early on in the game. It was a period too late there."
The Sabres lost at home for the second time in three days to forfeit momentum from their three-game road winning streak. They are 1-4 in the last five downtown and 6-14-3 this season.
"We wanted this one," Okposo said. "We wanted to respond after the way we had a bit of lifeless effort last time at home.
"It's so frustrating when you don't win at home."
The fans expressed their frustration by staying away. Though the Sabres announced 16,707 tickets sold, the actual attendance appeared to be in the 10,000 range.
"We can't start the game like we did taking four penalties in the first period," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "It was good to see that there was some emotion. We played with some emotion in the second and third period. That's the way we've got to start the game, though. It's just too late at that point."