It seemed as if Tuesday night could not get worse for the Buffalo Sabres.
They allowed three goals in the first five minutes of the third period against a last-place opponent in KeyBank Center after controlling play for 40 minutes. Then Rasmus Ristolainen collided with Jason Pominville, who was helped off the ice and would not return to the game.
The Sabres would not recover, allowing an empty-net goal with 2:30 remaining to cap a 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers. It was Buffalo's seventh consecutive loss to the Panthers, who remain at the bottom of the Atlantic Division at 13-13-6. Aleksander Barkov, Evgenii Dadonov and Frank Vatrano scored in the third period to erase a one-goal deficit.
The Sabres, 20-10-5 with 45 points, led 2-1 after two periods with goals by Jeff Skinner and Ristolainen. However, Barkov scored a power-play goal, Dadonov capitalized on a penalty shot and Vatrano backhanded a shot past Carter Hutton after Marco Scandella lost contain in front of the net. Those three goals were scored 3:44 apart, and Dadonov added an empty netter to cap the scoring.
Skinner scored his 25th goal of the season on assists from Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. After Florida tied the score on Troy Brouwer's goal in the second period, Ristolainen answered with his fifth of the season for a 2-1 lead.
9-1-2: This was the Sabres' first regulation loss this season when leading after two periods. They were previously 9-0-2 when outscoring opponents through 40 minutes.
Opening salvo: The Panthers were no match for the Sabres' top line in the first period. Skinner gave Buffalo a 1-0 lead 3:48 into the first when he collected a pass from Eichel and beat Florida goalie Roberto Luongo.
Panthers answer: Panthers center Jared McCann ripped a shot off the rear boards that bounced to the front of the net, where Brouwer was able to catch Hutton off-guard with the tying goal 9:17 into the second period.
Top line again: Following a flurry of chances, the Sabres' top line cashed in again when Ristolainen carried the puck through the bottom of the right circle and beat Luongo short side with a wrist shot.
Penalty shot: For the second time in as many games, a Sabres goalie had to stop a penalty shot. This time, though, Hutton was not able to make a save. Dadonov was tripped on a breakaway by Rasmus Dahlin, who had turned the puck over to lead to the scoring chance. Hutton appeared to stop Dadonov on the penalty shot, but the puck slowly went through his legs and in to give Florida its first lead.
Retaliation: Florida's leading scorer, Barkov, skated off the ice slowly and went to the locker room 14:09 into the second period after he was tripped in the corner by Skinner. After serving a two-minute penalty, Skinner was put into a headlock by Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle, who dropped his gloves and threw Skinner to the ground. Yandle received only a two-minute minor penalty for roughing.
Streak snapped: Barkov's tying goal 58 seconds into the third period was the first power-play goal allowed by the Sabres in 21 opportunities. The team last killed 20 or more consecutive penalties in 2016, when they went 23-for-23 from Jan. 10-25.
Drought over: Buffalo did not have a 25-goal scorer from 2012 to 2016, but Skinner accomplished that feat in the team's 35th game of the season. He also surpassed his output from last season, when he scored 24 in 82 games with Carolina. Skinner is also 12 goals away from matching his career-high of 37, which he set in 2016-17 and is also one of four players in franchise history to reach 25 goals in 34 games, trailing only Alexander Mogilny, who scored No. 25 in his 34th game in 1992-93.
Streaking: Skinner and Eichel both stretched their point streaks to seven games, while Reinhart's is now at a career-high 11 after his secondary assist on Skinner's goal.
100: With his secondary assist on Skinner's goal, Reinhart has 100 for his career.
Line change: In search of secondary scoring, coach Phil Housley again made changes to his bottom-three lines. Casey Mittelstadt skated on the second line with Evan Rodrigues and Jason Pominville, while Kyle Okposo and Conor Sheary skated next to Vladimir Sobotka on the third line. Tage Thompson was bumped down to the fourth line.
Ullmark update: Goalie Linus Ullmark missed the morning skate because of an illness but served as Hutton's backup. Ryan Vinz, the Beauts' goaltending coach, participated in the morning skate with Ullmark absent.
Next: The Sabres will practice Wednesday at HarborCenter before traveling to Washington, where they will practice Thursday in Capital One Arena ahead of a Friday primetime matchup against the Capitals.