Drew Stafford had eight goals in a four-game stretch in February and hat tricks in consecutive meetings with the Boston Bruins on Dec. 15 and Jan. 1. But since his overtime winner March 6 in Minnesota, Stafford had been blanked. And his goal drought stretched even deeper back into the schedule.
Stafford scored a pair of goals in Friday's 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers in HSBC Arena -- after collecting just two in his previous 16 games. In fact, since the Minnesota goal, Stafford had six goalless games and missed two others with a tweaked hamstring.
"It's huge for me, especially missing a couple games there with another muscle thing," said Stafford, who leads the team with 28 goals. "It's frustrating. I'm not going to lie. At the same time, it's just a matter of sticking with it and doing the other things to help this team contribute to winning. You never know when you're going to get a bounce. You have to be ready for it and tonight I happened to get a couple."
Stafford got his stick on a Brad Boyes pass after some nice work from Tyler Ennis to give the Sabres the lead for good, 2-1, at 2:33 of the second period. Then he drove home an Ennis rebound at 9:56 of the third to give the Sabres some insurance just 13 seconds afer Jordan Leopold's power-play goal.
"Driving the net, good things happen," Stafford said. "[Ennis] makes a great play shooting off the far pad. It's something we try to do if we don't have a clear shot. Try to get a rebound off the far pad. Sure enough I'm skating to the net, get a break and get another one."
Stafford was doing very little of late, totaling just three shots on goal in the last three games. Maybe this game will get him on another hot streak. A 30-goal season is now clearly on Stafford's radar, at least to those around him counting. He has eight games left to get two goals.
"One game at a time, man. I'm not looking at stats," he said. "I'm just trying to contribute. More important to me is just getting back on the scoresheet."
Sabres center Paul Gaustad was sent to the quiet room under the NHL's new injury protocol when he took a shot to the head from Florida's Stephen Weiss with 9:11 left in the second period. Weiss received a minor for elbowing and probably a date with the NHL office.
"It's definitely a play you have to look at now because we lost 'Gaus' under the new program," Ruff said. "We lost him for 15-20 minutes. He has to be evaluated. It was a blow to the head. Whether Weiss did it accidentally or on purpose, it was still an elbow to the head. He's not that type of player. But at the same time, those types of plays have to be dealt with."
During the first intermission, the Sabres replayed the tribute video to the late Rick Martin that was one of the highlights of Thursday's memorial service for the fallen member of The French Connection. The end of the video was greeted with applause.
The loss clinched the Panthers' 10th straight non-playoff season, setting a new NHL record. The California Golden Seals/Cleveland Barons and Colorado Rockies/New Jersey Devils missed in nine straight.