Barkov, Florida's captain and the second overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, is coming off one of the best games of his career. He had three goals and one assist in a 6-3 win over the visiting Montreal Canadiens on Sunday.
It was Barkov's second career hat trick and his third four-point game.
His second goal, which came on a breakaway with 2:11 left in the second period, was sensational, and it gave Florida a 4-3 lead it never relinquished. Montreal defenseman Victor Mete tried to catch up, but Barkov was too fast and skilled, moving the puck forward and then back between his legs before flipping it from behind his left knee over the stick of Canadiens goalie Carey Price.
"It was probably the prettiest goal I've seen all season," Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. "That was nuts.
"We all know how good (Barkov's) stats are in shootouts (with the skill required to score there). Yet, even we looked at each other on the bench in disbelief. (We were shocked) he could pull that off."
Barkov, who has 22 goals and leads the Panthers with 57 points, is modest to a fault. But the 23-year-old clearly enjoyed this goal.
"I think I've tried (that move) 17 times in my career, and this is the first time it's worked," said Barkov, who has reached at least 20 goals four straight seasons. "I'm happy."
So are the Panthers, who have a modest two-game win streak. Tuesday, they'll face a Sabres team that has lost two straight games and has a losing record on the road at 11-14-3.
Florida is 14-10-5 at home.
Neither team is in playoff position at the moment, and the Panthers (25-24-8) trail the Sabres (28-23-7) by five points with one game in hand. Buffalo is six points out of the final wild-card spot in the East.
The Panthers have had the better of the Sabres so far this season. Barkov's overtime goal secured a 3-2 win on Nov. 30, and the Panthers star had one goal and one assist on Dec. 18, when Florida defeated Buffalo 5-2.
The third time the teams played this season -- and the most recent -- was on Jan. 3, and Barkov again had one goal and one assist. But the host Sabres won 4-3 thanks to a pair of Jeff Skinner goals.
Sabres forward Tage Thompson said his team had clearly circled the calendar prior to that last game.
"The results we got the last time we played them wasn't what we wanted," Thompson said on Jan. 3. "We went into this game with a chip on our shoulders, and we played a full 60."
It will be interesting to see if that chip will remain for the Sabres. Certainly, Skinner -- who leads the Sabres with 36 goals, twice as many as second-place Jack Eichel -- plays with an edge against Florida.
In his past eight games against the Panthers, Skinner has scored eight goals and has added two assists.
As a team, however, the Sabres are struggling a bit overall, losing three of their past four games, including a 4-1 defeat to the New Jersey Devils on Sunday.
"We need to bear down and start putting up more points," Sabres forward Sam Reinhart said. "We're focused on getting ready for the Florida Panthers."
The Sabres have been slipping ever since their 10-game win streak was snapped on Nov. 29. Starting with that loss, the Sabres are 11-17-5 since.
Neither team will be at full strength on Tuesday.
Panthers starting goalie Roberto Luongo was placed on bereavement leave prior to the Sunday game, and Buffalo is expected to face Panthers backup netminder James Reimer, who has won two straight contests.
The Sabres got some good news on Sunday with the return of center Casey Mittelstadt, who has eight goals and 11 assists this season. The eighth overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, Mittelstadt had missed the prior two games due to a lower-body injury.
However, Sabres right winger Kyle Okposo, who has 10 goals and 12 assists, missed the Devils game and left the team Monday to undergo medical evaluation in Buffalo. Okposo was punched in the face by New York Rangers defenseman Anthony DeAngelo during a fight on Friday and has experienced severe concussion issues in the past.
"I don't have any information up to this point, but he went back to Buffalo to get further evaluated by our doctors," Buffalo coach Phil Housley told reporters after practice Monday.
Okposo, like Mittelstadt, is a top-six forward for the Sabres.
Also, Housley said defenseman Marco Scandella is week-to-week due to an upper-body injury.
--Field Level Media
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