The Buffalo Sabres don't have much room for error and they'll look to turn things around quickly on Thursday evening as they close out a three-game road trip with a contest against the Florida Panthers.
Sitting 12th overall in the Eastern Conference, the Sabres made a push for a playoff spot with a season high-tying three-game winning streak that included a pair of road victories in Montreal around a home win over Toronto.
However, the Sabres saw their offense held in check on Tuesday with a 2-1 setback to the Tampa Bay Lightning, preventing a shutout loss on Jordan Leopold's goal with 3:08 to play.
Ryan Miller made 21 saves for the Sabres, who are five points behind the New York Rangers for the eighth spot in the East.
"There wasn't a lot of urgency in anything tonight," Buffalo coach Ron Rolston admitted. "(We'll) just get ready for the next game. We got to win the next one."
Sabres defenseman Andrej Sekera missed his fifth straight game with an upper body injury, while leading scorer Thomas Vanek did not return after also suffering an upper body injury in the third period. Vanek leads the Sabres with 16 goals, 17 assists and 33 points and is questionable for tonight according to Rolston, who added that forward Drew Stafford, a healthy scratch in two straight, will return to the lineup against the Panthers regardless of Vanek's availability.
Stafford has scored 51 goals over the previous two seasons, but has just four and 11 points in 31 games this year and just two goals without an assist in his past eight games.
Buffalo aims to get on track against a Panthers team that is last in the NHL with 24 points and has lost nine of its last 11. That includes the final three contests of a five-game swing that concluded with Tuesday's 3-2 loss in Toronto.
Tomas Fleischmann scored in the first period and Shawn Matthias scored 23 seconds after the Maple Leafs took a 2-1 lead early in the third. However, Florida yielded the game-winning goal just over two minutes later.
"We looked like a different team in different sections of the game," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen admitted. "You play 25, 30 solid minutes and then have a few issues that we have to take care of ... We had a fairly strong finish but not enough to get the job done."
Jacob Markstrom turned away 28 shots in the loss for Florida, which will play two straight and four of its next five at home.
These clubs have split the first two of three meetings this season, with each team picking up a road win. The Sabres won a 4-3 shootout at the Panthers on Feb. 28 and have taken nine of the last 12 in Florida.