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Sabres fall, 5-1, as Panthers win 10th straight game

It’s becoming an all-too-familiar story. The Sabres shot early and often but couldn’t find the net. The opponent could.

Game over.

Buffalo dropped its fifth straight game Tuesday night with a 5-1 loss to Florida. The first-place Panthers won their 10th in a row to move 18 points ahead of the Sabres in the Atlantic Division.

The Sabres weren’t shy about testing Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo, splitting 24 shots through the opening two periods and finishing with 32. However, for the 10th time in 14 games, the Sabres were held to two goals or fewer.

Buffalo fell to 15-21-4 overall and 8-13-2 in First Niagara Center. The Sabres are 0-4-1 in their last five home games.

Insurance: The Panthers, who improved to 7-0-2 in their last nine trips to Buffalo, extended their lead to 3-1 with 14:25 to play. Forward Quinton Howden won a puck battle below the Buffalo net and found wide-open Corban Knight in front. He beat sprawling goalie Linus Ullmark, who fell to 1-8-2 in his last 11 decisions.

Pouring it on: The Panthers made it 4-1 with 3:54 to go when Jonathan Huberdeau easily scored on a breakaway. Brandon Pirri scored into an empty net with 1:21 to go.

In a hole again: For the fifth time in seven games, the Sabres allowed the opening goal. It was a beauty that showed why the Panthers are surging. Huberdeau carried the puck into the center of the Sabres’ zone, drawing defenders to him, then sent a pass to streaking Jaromir Jagr for a one-timer with 9:45 gone.

The goal was the 14th of the season for Jagr and the 736th of his NHL career. He has 45 goals against the Sabres.

Eichel to O’Reilly: The Sabres’ hottest offensive weapons combined on the power play to pull Buffalo into a 1-1 tie. After getting the puck at the left side of the net, Jack Eichel immediately sent a no-look, backhand pass to wide-open Ryan O’Reilly in front of the net. O’Reilly easily buried his 16th goal of the season with 2:44 gone in the second period.

It was the fourth power-play goal in three games for the Sabres, who had none in the prior seven games. Buffalo had three power plays during the second period.

Back in front: The Panthers needed just 6:10 to retake the lead, 2-1. Swift-skating Derek MacKenzie sped into the right side of the Sabres’ zone and showed goalie Linus Ullmark where mama hides the cookies, ripping a shot into the top corner with 7:06 left in the second.

No goals again: The Sabres took 12 shots during the opening 20 minutes to outshoot the Panthers by two, but they still headed into intermission in a 1-0 hole. The Sabres have just 15 goals during their 40 first periods, the lowest total in the NHL. Florida, meanwhile, has allowed a league-low 18 goals during first periods.

Gloves drop, no fight: The fans loudly voiced their displeasure with linesman Greg Devorski after he refused to let willing combatants Evander Kane and Dmitry Kulikov fight with 31 seconds left in the second period. The Florida defenseman went low with a hit on Kane, and the Sabres forward quickly engaged Kulikov. Both players dropped the gloves, but Devorski remained in the middle. Both players got roughing penalties.

Defensive swap: For the first time in 12 games, Sabres coach Dan Bylsma tapped Carlo Colaiacovo to play. The blue-liner took the place of Mike Weber, who was scratched after a 12-game stay in the lineup. Colaiacovo had recently told the coach he wasn’t happy with his spot on the sidelines.

“I don’t expect a player to be all that happy about sitting out,” Bylsma said. “I know he’s been wanting to get back in, and pretty desperately. When I told him yesterday he’d be playing this game, he was pretty fired up about that opportunity.”

Lehner, Pysyk ready to rehab: The Sabres are sending goaltender Robin Lehner and defenseman Mark Pysyk to Rochester for the final step of their recovery from injuries. The duo will play this weekend for the Amerks, who have three games in three days starting Friday.

Coach honored: The Sabres presented the J. Michael Duffett Memorial Award to Kenmore East hockey coach Kyle Pray. The annual award, established in 1984, honors a coach whose contribution to amateur hockey in Western New York “exemplifies the knowledge, teaching, love of the game and gentle humanity” of Duffett, a Nichols School grad who died of cancer while working for the Sabres.

Counting the house: The Sabres, who announced sellouts for the previous three games, announced a crowd of 18,560.

Up next: The Sabres are hitting the road for three games, starting with Friday’s game in Chicago against the Blackhawks. The attention peaks during the weekend when Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian return to Winnipeg for the first time since being traded for Sunday’s game against the Jets. Buffalo closes the trip Tuesday in Minnesota.

email: jvogl@buffnews.com