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Apr 12, 2024 2:57 pm

Sam Reinhart looks to propel Panthers past Sabres

Sam Reinhart

Devon Levi and Jiri Kulich.

That’s essentially the return the Buffalo Sabres received after trading center Sam Reinhart to the Florida Panthers on July 24, 2021.

Reinhart, now a full-fledged NHL superstar, will lead the playoff-bound Florida Panthers against the out-of-contention Buffalo Sabres on Saturday.

The Panthers (50-24-6, 106 points) have clinched the playoffs and have the second-most points in franchise history. They also trail the Boston Bruins by just one point in the battle for first place in the Atlantic Division.

Buffalo (38-37-5, 81 points) will miss the playoffs for the 13th straight season. With two games remaining, they already have sealed taking a step back from last season, when they had a respectable 91 points.

Reinhart was selected by the Sabres with the second overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. He has posted career-high totals in goals (54) and points (91) this season.

In fact, Reinhart has 21 more goals than in his previous best season, which came in 2021-2022.

As for the players the Sabres received in the Reinhart trade, Levi, a 22-year-old goalie, and Kulich, a 19-year-old center, are playing for the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League.

Perhaps Levi and Kulich will develop into solid NHL players one day. But, for now, the trade is a huge win for the Panthers, who are preparing for another playoff run.

“Everybody can feel the playoffs coming,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “There’s no concern about our energy level for the playoffs. None.

“The guys have been waiting for this all year. They will be ready.”

Aside from Reinhart, Florida also boasts a defense that leads the NHL with a 2.43 goals-against average.

In addition, the Panthers have secured two straight shutouts — one each by Sergei Bobrovsky and Anthony Stolarz. Bobrovsky registered his sixth shutout this season after turning aside 25 shots in a 4-0 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday.

“The guys work hard, and sometimes it is not easy to play those games,” Bobrovsky said. “The guys did the right things, defended very well.”

As a result, Florida improved to 3-0-1 in its past four games.

“We did not cheat the game to try and generate points and were good defensively,” Maurice said. “There was not any casualness about the way we played.”

Florida forward Carter Verhaeghe and defenseman Aaron Ekblad are nursing undisclosed injuries. Regardless, the Panthers still are favored to defeat a Buffalo squad that has gone 5-6-0 over its past 11 games.

The Sabres are led in goals by Tage Thompson, who has 29 goals in 69 games.

Defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, the NHL’s top overall pick in 2018, has scored a career-high 20 goals to go along with team-leading 38 assists.

Alex Tuch tops the Sabres in points (59), and goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen leads the squad in wins (27).

Luukkonen made 22 saves in Buffalo’s 4-2 victory over the Washington Capitals on Thursday.

“We’re just trying to win, plain and simple,” Tuch said. “If we knock a team out of the playoffs in the process, that’s fine, too.”

–Field Level Media

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