SUNRISE, Fla. — The surging Florida Panthers are edging closer to a playoff spot.
Aleksander Barkov scored his 24th goal of the season, James Reimer made 24 saves in his first start in six games and Florida beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 on Friday night.
The Panthers have won five straight and are 12-3-0 in their past 15. They moved within one point of Columbus and Carolina for the second Eastern Conference wild card.
Colton Sceviour, Aaron Ekblad and Mike Matheson also scored for the Panthers. Evgenii Dadanov and Nick Bjugstad each had two assists.
"We're having a heck of a run here," Bjugstad said. "Anything can happen at the end of the year. A spark has been lit here."
Reimer filled in admirably for Roberto Luongo, who has won four straight but was given the night off in the second of back-to-back games.
"He was sharp," Panthers coach Bob Boughner said about Reimer. "It was nice to get four goals for him, but I think he looked real comfortable in the net."
Sam Reinhart scored for the Sabres, and Robin Lehner made 26 saves.
"I think we had effort today, but they got some breaks and we didn't," Lehner said. "It was a solid game but things were just clicking for them."
Barkov stretched the Panthers' lead to 3-1 when he flipped the puck over Lehner's shoulder at 6:49 of the second period. Barkov has six goals and nine assists in his past 10 games and is tied with Vincent Trocheck for the team lead in goals.
Sceviour made it 4-1 when he poked in a rebound with 8:44 left in the second.
"They capitalized on their opportunities and we didn't," Sabres coach Phil Housley said.
Florida's previous four games were decided by one goal, but the Panthers took a 4-1 lead into the third period.
"We don't get a lot of those games," Boughner said.
Ekblad put the Panthers ahead 2-1 after he took a cross-ice pass from Keith Yandle in the right circle and wristed it past Lehner with 3:19 left in the first.
Matheson gave Florida a 1-0 lead 1:25 in when he corralled the puck in the high slot and fired a shot that beat Lehner on the stick side. The goal was Matheson's ninth but first on home ice.
Reinhart tied the score at 1 when he swept the puck in from the right side at 5:34 of the first.
NOTES: The Panthers have scored first in 11 of their past 13 games. ... Reinhart has 21 points in his past 21 games. ... Sabres forward Kyle Okposo returned after missing Wednesday's game at Tampa Bay due to the birth of his third child.
Sabres: Host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday.
Panthers: Host the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday.
More AP hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey
Paul Gereffi, The Associated Press