Posted March 16, 2012 on AP on Fox
Barring a collapse, the Florida Panthers are headed for their first postseason appearance since 1999-2000. The Buffalo Sabres can't afford to leave points behind like they did last game if they hope to join Florida in the playoffs. On the verge of their longest winning streak in four years, the Panthers close out a four-game homestand Saturday night against the Sabres, winners of four of five in this series. Southeast Division-leading Florida (34-23-13) extended its home winning streak to four with its third consecutive victory overall, defeating Boston 6-2 on Thursday. The Panthers have outscored opponents 17-6 during their modest run at BankAtlantic Center. "We want to play well at home to enthuse our fan base," coach Kevin Dineen said. "We want to be homers, be a good home team. I think we've shown that." Despite its recent success, Florida, which hasn't posted four consecutive victories since a seven-game run March 2-16, 2008, knows it can't afford to take its foot off the pedal. "These games are so crucial to everybody for that matter," center John Madden, who scored his first goal in 20 games this season, told the team's official website "It's not going to change. It doesn't matter if you're the New York Rangers at the top right now, you want to stay there so you have to consistency going or you're us or you're Buffalo climbing your way back up. "We have to keep building and looking towards playoff hockey and we have got to start now." Only a few points outside the congested Eastern Conference playoff picture, the Sabres (33-29-9) squandered away a point their last time out. Buffalo appeared headed for a third straight win Wednesday before Colorado scored with two seconds remaining in regulation and ultimately won 5-4 in a shootout. The Sabres also allowed the game-tying goal with five seconds left in the third period Monday before defeating Montreal 3-2 in overtime. "It's disappointing and it's a tough point to lose," right winger Jason Pominville told the team's official website. "That's all we can say. We've got to find a way to shut it down when we have a one-goal lead with not a lot of time left." Ryan Miller, meanwhile, surrendered more than three goals for the first time in nearly a month, dropping to 9-1-2 with a 1.95 goals-against average over his last 12 games. "I'm not real happy about that. Don't know what to say. It's two games in a row. This time we got bit and we've got to be better next time," Miller said. "We just have to be in desperation mode at all times." A visit to south Florida could help Miller put Wednesday's result behind him. The former Vezina Trophy winner has gone 7-2-0 with a 1.77 GAA and two shutouts during his last nine road meetings with the Panthers. He turned away all 22 shots in a 3-0 road win Oct. 20. Jose Theodore has also proven pretty stingy for Florida of late, especially at home. He made 24 saves versus the Bruins, improving to 10-3-3 with a 1.91 GAA in his last 19 home games. Buffalo's Tyler Myers will serve the second of his three-game suspension for a hit against Canadiens forward Scott Gomez, while fellow defenseman Andrej Sekera (pneumonia) could miss his sixth straight contest. Panthers left winger Kris Versteeg might make his much-anticipated return following a nine-game absence due to a lower-body injury.
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