Panthers battle Sabres hoping to get closer to division title

The Florida Panthers will try to help their quest for the Southeast Division title with a fourth straight victory, as they host the Buffalo Sabres tonight at BankAtlantic Center.

The Panthers have tied a season-high with three wins in a row and the modest streak has Florida three points ahead of Washington for first place in the Southeast. The Capitals, who are seeded eighth in the Eastern Conference, are idle today.

Florida hasn't won four consecutive games since March 2-16, 2008 and the Panthers last qualified for the postseason in the spring of 2000. The club's playoff drought is the longest in NHL history.

The Panthers last won three in a row from Feb. 25-28, but were slammed by the Winnipeg Jets, 7-0, in their next outing. Florida has poured on the offense during its current three-game streak, outscoring the opposition by a 13-4 margin during the surge.

After posting a 5-2 win Tuesday against Toronto, the Panthers improved to 3-0 on a four-game homestand with Thursday's 6-2 rout of the Boston Bruins. Marcel Goc, Stephen Weiss and John Madden all tallied in the second period to help Florida breeze past the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Mikael Samuelsson, Tomas Kopecky and Wojtek Wolski also scored for the Panthers, while Jose Theodore stopped 24-of-26 shots for the win.

"This was a big hockey game for us for sure. It was a big win and we have to keep it going, put this one behind us and focus on the next one," said Weiss.

After closing their homestand tonight, the Panthers will play two straight and six of their next eight tilts on the road. Florida is 19-9-8 at home compared to a 15-14-5 record everywhere else.

On the injury front, Florida forward Kris Versteeg has missed the last nine games with a lower-body injury and is questionable for tonight.

The Sabres are in a frantic chase for the last playoff seed in the East and the club has certainly helped the cause by capturing 21 of a possible 28 points over their last 14 games (9-2-3). The surge has helped Buffalo pull within three points of Washington for the conference's last postseason berth.

Buffalo had a two-game winning streak halted its last time out, however, as it dropped Wednesday's 5-4 shootout decision to visiting Colorado despite heading into to the final seconds of regulation with a lead. Jamie McGinn scored with less than two seconds to play in the third period to tie the game at 4-4 and Peter Mueller scored the game-winning goal in the shootout for Colorado.

"We played with fire, and got burned," Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff said of his team's last-second collapse. "Our two forwards got caught flat-footed in the neutral zone and allowed (Colorado's Gabriel) Landeskog to wind up and come full speed. We didn't follow him to the outside."

Marcus Foligno scored twice and Drew Stafford added a goal and two assists for the Sabres. Alexander Sulzer also scored in the loss and Tyler Ennis had three helpers. Ryan Miller surrendered four goals on 42 shots in the loss.

The Sabres have gone past regulation in three straight and four of their last five games.

Buffalo is playing the first of two straight on the road and is 15-18-1 as the guest this year.

Sabres forward Nathan Gerbe is questionable for today after missing Wednesday's test with an upper-body injury. Defenseman Andrej Sekera has missed the last five games with a bout of pneumonia and is also questionable, while fellow blueliner Tyler Myers will serve the second part of a three-game suspension tonight.

Buffalo is 2-1 against the Panthers this season and has taken four of five and 10 of the last 14 games in this series. Florida has dropped five of its last six home tests versus the Sabres.