Jovanovski sparks Panthers to 4-3 win over Sabres

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - Florida Panthers captain Ed Jovanovski finally has something to show for all the pain he went through in overcoming a string of injuries that kept him sidelined for much of the past two years.

Playing only his ninth game of the season since recovering from hip surgery, the veteran defenseman scored the go-ahead goal and added an assist in sparking a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night.

The goal came in Jovanovski’s 1,100th career game and was his first since April 5, 2012. So forgive him if he had difficulty recalling the last time he scored.

“Oh, has it been that long?” the 37-year-old said. “I’m getting a little up there. But I think for me, having the opportunity to be in the dressing room and going out there and doing something that I love, that’s a privilege.”

He even got a fortunate bounce in putting the Panthers ahead 3-2 with 1:04 left in the first period. Jovanovski’s shot from the top of the left circle deflected in off the stick of Sabres defenseman Mike Weber.

With Jovanovski providing the offense, another member of the Panthers‘ old guard did his part to ensure the lead stood up.

Veteran goalie Tim Thomas stopped 32 shots, including 15 in the final period to improve to 7-3-2 in his past 12.

“Yeah, it was a little bit of chaos there for a while,” the 39-year-old Thomas said. “But it must have been entertaining for the fans. And I can laugh at it because we came out on top.”

The Panthers (20-23-7) improved to 4-2-1 in their past seven, and secured wins on consecutive nights. Florida was coming off a 5-1 win at Pittsburgh that snapped the Penguins’ franchise-record home winning streak at 13.

Sean Bergenheim, Jesse Winchester and Nick Bjugstad also scored for Florida, which improved to 4-0-1 in its past five trips to Buffalo. Tom Gilbert set up two goals in helping the Panthers overcome a pair of one-goal first-period deficits.

Drew Stafford scored twice and Steve Ott also scored for the Sabres (13-28-7), who dropped to 0-2-2 in their past four.

Ott’s goal 8:36 into the third period cut the Panthers‘ lead to 4-3, but the Sabres failed to capitalize on three power-play chances over the final 7:13. That included a 4-minute power-play after Panthers forward Brad Boyes was issued a double-minor penalty for high-sticking Sabres defenseman Henrik Tallinder.

“Obviously, it wasn’t good enough tonight,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “We had a great opportunity for almost a minute and a half. We just didn’t get shots through.”

Ryan Miller had a bit of an off night as well in finishing with 18 saves.

Though the first three goals he allowed all came on deflected shots, he gave up a soft one in allowing Bjugstad to put the Panthers up 4-2 with 3:48 left in the second period. Driving up the left wing, Bjugstad snapped a shot that beat Miller high on the short side.

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