SUNRISE, Fla. — For the second straight game, the Florida Panthers were down by three goals in the second period.
For the second straight game, it didn’t matter.
The Panthers — also known these days as the “Comeback Cats” — rallied from a three-goal deficit for the second time in three days Thursday, storming from behind to beat the Buffalo Sabres, 7-4, in Sunrise.
It took a goalie change, seven goals in the last 30:03, some more solid special-teams work and one of the best saves of the year by center Eetu Luostarinen, but the Panthers were able to overcome an abysmal first period to escape another less-than-ideal performance with a close win at home.
Defenseman Lucas Carlsson scored his first NHL goal in the second period to bring Florida to life, then forward Sam Reinhart and star defenseman Aaron Ekblad started the comeback by cutting the Sabres’ 4-1 lead to 4-3 at the start of the third. Ekblad scored again on a power play with 18:53 left to tie the game 4-4 and rookie center Anton Lundell scored the game-winning goal with 11:55 to remaining to finish off another wild comeback at FLA Live Arena.
The win Thursday came on the heels of the most unlikely comeback of the NHL season so far Tuesday. Florida was down by three at the start of the third against the Washington Capitals and came back to win in regulation by outshooting the Stanley Cup contender 27-2 in the final period, becoming the first team in the league this year to erase a three-goal deficit at the start of the third.
Somehow, the Panthers followed up one of the best periods in franchise history with one of the worst less than 48 hours later.
Florida gave up three goals in the first 15 minutes. Buffalo scored on its second shot of the game, then its fourth and again on their seventh. They were uniformly the product of defensive lapses and mostly came after giveaways near the edge of their own defensive zone.
The first two looked nearly identical: A defensive lapse let a Sabre get open, barreling down the right side of the slot for an open wrist shot and the Buffalo forward — Vinnie Hinostroza on the first one and Dylan Cozens on the second — buried it into the top of the net. On the third, the Sabres passed across the front of the goal and Hinostroza scored again to give Buffalo a 3-0 lead at the end of the first period.
Compared to Tuesday, this was nothing. The Capitals are one of the best teams in the league and were outplaying the Panthers through two periods. The Sabres have fallen apart since a surprisingly strong start to the season and, save for those lapses, Florida was generating the bulk of the game’s best chances.
Carlsson finally came through with 10:03 left in the second, beating Buffalo goaltender Aaron Dell with a slap shot, but the comeback took a few more minutes to actually begin. Sabres forward Corey Middelstadt beat Sergei Bobrovsky with 8:44 left in the second and interim coach Andrew Brunette yanked the goaltender after he gave up four goals on just 12 shots. Spencer Knight came in and stopped all 19 shots he faced. His teammates handled the rest.
A minute and 16 seconds after the rookie goaltender entered, Carlsson took another slap shot from the point and Reinhart, acquired by Florida in a July trade with Buffalo, deflected the puck past Dell to cut the Sabres’ lead down to 4-2. With 4:20 left in the second, Ekblad scored off an assist by star left wing Jonathan Huberdeau to get Buffalo’s lead all the way down to 4-3 at the start of the third period.
The Panthers began the third period on a power play and Ekblad cashed in. First, defenseman MacKenzie Weegar hit the post. Forward Sam Bennett came up with the rebound and fired at Dell again. Finally, Ekblad pounced on another rebound and launched the game-tying goal past Dell.
Lundell scored the game-winner about seven minutes later, but only after Luostarinen made the biggest play of the game on the defensive end.
About a minute before Lundell put Florida ahead, Knight was caught out of the net and the Sabres took a shot at the empty net. Luostarinen was there, though, and stuck his stick in the way of the puck, just barely keeping it out of the goal to keep the game tied.©2021 Miami Herald. Visit at miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.