Follow CBSMIAMI.COM: Facebook | Twitter
SUNRISE (AP) — The improving Buffalo Sabres are finally back at .500.
Cody Franson scored the tiebreaking goal late in the second period, Sam Reinhart added a power-play goal early in the third and the Sabres held off the Florida Panthers 3-2 on Thursday night.
Buffalo, last in the NHL the past two seasons, upped its record to 8-8-0 with its fifth victory in six games and reached .500 for the first time since the final game of the 2012-13 season.
Led by newcomer Ryan O’Reilly and rookie star Jack Eichel, the Sabres have won three straight road games for the first time since March 2012. They are off to their best start since 2011-12.
“We started the season 2-6, and 3-7 our first 10. We thought we were better than that,” coach Dan Bylsma said.
Brian Gionta also scored for the Sabres, and Rasmus Ristolainen had two assists. Linus Ullmark stopped 36 shots during his fifth start in six games.
The Sabres withstood a late barrage from the Panthers that featured six shots on goal in the last 2 minutes, including one that hit Ullmark in the helmet.
“I didn’t really see the puck all the time,” Ullmark said. “I was flopping around there in my crease just trying to get something in the way. Thank God I have a big head, which I got on the puck.”
Vincent Trocheck and Jonathan Huberdeau scored for Florida, and Jaromir Jagr had an assist. Jagr passed Teemu Selanne in power-play points with 589.
Roberto Luongo made 15 saves but has allowed at least three goals in each of his last four games.
The Sabres stretched their lead to 3-1 on Reinhart’s power-play goal. Tyler Ennis took a shot from above the right circle and Reinhart tipped in the puck at 3:38 of the third.
“It was nice to capitalize on that one,” Reinhart said.
Florida closed to 3-2 when Trocheck deflected a shot from the point by Aaron Ekblad into the net with 4 minutes left. Trocheck is tied with Jagr for the team lead in goals with seven.
Franson gave the Sabres a 2-1 lead with 1:07 left in the second. Franson’s shot from above the left circle went between Luongo’s pads.
“Even though they were buzzing, but a shot like that can’t go through,” Luongo said. “I’ll take the blame for this one, that’s for sure.”
Luongo lost for the first time in eight games against the Sabres.
“You can’t have a team’s number forever. It was an important game for us and we couldn’t get the win,” he said.
The Sabres had a goal disallowed at 13:27 of the second. Ennis shot the puck from the right side of the crease and it bounced off the stick of Luongo and into the net.
The Panthers challenged the goal, claiming Ennis was offside before Eichel crossed the blue line with the puck. Officials reversed the ruling on the ice after a replay review, and the score remained 1-0.
About 3 minutes later, on a power play, Huberdeau poked a loose puck past Ullmark, who was knocked down on the play. Buffalo challenged, claiming goalie interference, but the call stood and Huberdeau had his first goal of the season at 9:35 to tie it 1-all.
Huberdeau hadn’t scored since April 11 against New Jersey.
“Hopefully it’s going to go in more often, but it would’ve been nice to get a win out of it,” Huberdeau said.
Gionta’s first goal of the season gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead late in the first period. His shot from the right circle got past Luongo on the glove side with 31.5 seconds left.
“I didn’t like losing. We played pretty hard, we played pretty well, we just didn’t put the puck in the net,” Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said.
NOTES: Panthers C Aleksander Barkov, out with a hand injury since Oct. 22, skated with the team on Thursday. … Jagr played in his 1,564th career game, tying Nicklas Lidstrom for 10th place in NHL history. … Sabres D Mike Weber missed the game with a lower-body injury.
(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)