Home Front end The Panthers rout the Sabers when Spencer Knight returns; Lundell injured

The Panthers rout the Sabers when Spencer Knight returns; Lundell injured

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Florida Panthers goaltender Spencer Knight (30) looks for the puck in traffic during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabers, Monday, March 7, 2022, in Buffalo, NY (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

Florida Panthers goaltender Spencer Knight (30) looks for the puck in traffic during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabers, Monday, March 7, 2022, in Buffalo, NY (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

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The Florida Panthers’ 6-1 rout of the Buffalo Sabers on Monday was a kind of homecoming celebration for Brandon Montour and Sam Reinhart, who combined for three points in their return to Western New York, and another for Spencer Knight in his long-awaited return to the NHL.

The only thing that slowed down the good vibes was a scary crash for Anton Lundell in the first half. Although the rookie center took an awkward fall and entered the board feet-first behind the Sabers net, Andrew Brunette is optimistic the lower-body injury won’t keep Lundell out too long.

“I have no idea. I’m not a doctor, so it’s a bit difficult to assess,” the coach said, then offered a hopeful treat. “I think it’s not serious, but we’ll see.”

Other than the injury and a shaky first period, it was the kind of night the Panthers (38-13-5) had been hoping for against one of the worst teams in the league.

Florida never trailed, turned a 1-0 lead late in the first period into a 5-0 rout late in the second and nearly shutout Buffalo to come back up in first place in the Atlantic Division, but with a game more than the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Montour scored the opening goal in the first period — on the Panthers’ first shot on goal — and added an assist in the second to give Florida a 2-0 lead. Reinhart added another assist on a power play goal later in the period to give the Panthers a 3-0 lead. Knight, who was playing in the NHL for the first time since January after spending more than a month in the American Hockey League, came on 6:18 from his first career shutout before allowing a deflection goal in the third .

It was about as eventful as a blowout win in front of 7,906 at KeyBank Center could have gotten.

“It’s good to see good faces. It’s a little different playing against them, but that’s hockey,” said Montour, who along with Reinhart was traded from the Sabers to Florida last year. “Once it’s game time, it’s the same. It was good to get that one early.

It was about the only thing that went well on offense for the Panthers in the first. Buffalo (18-32-8) outscored Florida 11-3 in the first period, but the Panthers led 1-0 in the first intermission thanks to Montour’s goal and Knight’s solid play.

The rookie finished with 29 saves and started the game with 26 straight saves before allowing a third-period goal as Florida already led 6-0.

“He played amazing,” said winger Anthony Duclair, who scored in the Panthers’ four-goal second period. “I’m happy to see him again, that’s for sure.”

It was Knight’s first NHL start since the first day of February and, statistically, one of the best of his career – a very positive sign, considering the length of his season.

Knight started the year with serious aspirations for the Calder Memorial Trophy and found himself in a reserve role as compatriot Sergei Bobrovsky put together a resurgent first half. During his limited playing time, Knight, who became the youngest goaltender in league history to win his playoff debut last year after Bobrovsky was benched, experienced a hectic first half, posting an .898 save percentage and a 3.23 goals-against average.

The 20-year-old’s disappointing first half, along with Bobrovsky’s return to form, meant Brunette struggled to find opportunities to secure playing time for Knight, so the Panthers loaned the goaltender at AHL Charlotte last month, ahead of the 2022 NHL All-Star Game. .

Knight made eight starts for the Charlotte Checkers and regained his form by getting regular playing time against minor league competition. He posted a .924 save percentage and a 2.43 goals-against average before Florida called him up on Sunday to start the start of a straight set Monday.

At least for one night, the month-long trip to the minors seemed to benefit Knight and Knight’s perks will also benefit the Panthers once they reach the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“At his age, I think playing is probably the most important thing,” Brunette said, “and it’s good for a young player to kinda earn it, to fight. And the American League isn’t always fun and he went there with a good attitude, and he had a lot of help there and we know how good he is. He’s the best goalkeeper I’ve seen at his age and we we just make sure to develop it the right way.

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Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov (16) controls the puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabers, Monday, March 7, 2022, in Buffalo, NY (AP Photo/ Jeffrey T. Barnes)Jeffrey T. Barnes PA

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On Tuesday, Florida will play back-to-back nights for the first time in more than a month when they wrap up a quick two-game road trip against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Bobrovsky will likely get the start in net against the Penguins (34-14-9) in Pittsburgh. The puck will drop at 7 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena.

This story was originally published March 7, 2022 9:34 p.m.

Maryland native David Wilson is the Miami Herald’s duty man for sports coverage.