RALEIGH, N.C. – It wasn’t perfect early on, but the Carolina Hurricanes caught up to and outpaced the Buffalo Sabres to post a 5-2 win at PNC Arena on Friday.
Jeff Skinner and Brock McGinn each scored twice and a single from Victor Rask put the finishing touch on the Hurricanes’ third straight win over the Sabres this season.
Carolina goaltender Cam Ward made 36 saves to earn the win and completed his 18th straight game in doing so.
Anders Nilsson made 33 stops in the losing effort for the Sabres.
While both teams managed to get 38 shots on goal each, Carolina’s dominance in faceoffs, winning 60 percent of them, gave them ample possession time to test Nilsson.
The Buffalo keeper couldn’t keep up with his counterpart as the experienced Ward showed that he had much to offer as he helped Carolina extend its record to 20-15-7.
In playing his 600th career game, all with Carolina, Ward’s milestone put him fifth in career games amongst active NHL goalies, only one of three – New York’s Henrik Lundqvist and Pittsburgh’s Marc Andre Fleury being the others – to play all games with one team.
“Very thankful and appreciative of playing 600 games in this league,” Ward said.
“Not only this league, but this organization – I take pride in that; just another game, another milestone”.
Though the Hurricanes dominated play and possession during the opening minutes of play, it was the Sabres who struck first.
William Carrier opened the game’s scoring at 4:24 of the first period.
After intercepting a clearing pass from Carolina defenseman Jaccob Slavin to the left of the Carolina net, Ryan O’Reilly found Carrier open to redirect the puck past Ward who was out of position as a result of the turnover.
Both teams traded more opportunities to challenge each netminder, but Ward composed himself and held back any further Buffalo scoring chances.
Nilsson held up at his end as Buffalo tried to wear Carolina down physically, giving out 10 hits during the opening 20 minutes.
Outshot 13-8 and trailing 1-0 by the end of the first, the Hurricanes broke the game open in the second, scoring three straight goals in a seven- minute span.
Skinner notched his 16th and 17th goals of the game in a span of 55 seconds, first beating Nilsson to his left, just under and past his trapper, then ricocheting one off the post to the keeper’s right to put Carolina ahead 2-1 at the 2:43 mark.
“I think we just tried to stick with it,” Skinner said.
“The first period wasn’t our best period, but we were still able to generate two power plays. We wanna be a little bit better on the power power play…I think we were able to spend more time down in their end and we were able to be quicker in transition.”
Buffalo coach Dan Bylsma credited Carolina for the effort it showed to take over the game as his team was forced to make long shift changes.
“Got taught a bit of a lesson in second period hockey…catching us two times in situations where we’re tryin’ to get off the ice. In both cases, their best play ends up with the puck on his stick in speed and a great chance in the offensive zone.
The goals reached and surpassed the 300th career point mark for the Hurricanes’ leading scorer.
Derek Ryan and Jordan Staal set up the first goal while Justin Faulk earned his 11th assist of the year to set up the go-ahead marker.
McGinn scored his first of the game and extended Carolina’s advantage to 3-1 four minutes later.
“We have the ability to get back now,” Peters said of scoring three straight.
“I don’t think we did before – probably mental toughness as much as anything else.”
With the Hurricanes playing at a higher tempo, the Sabres continued to lay the body when they could and resulted in a 10-player scrum at one point.
Afforded a power play, another defensive turnover – this time by Ward – allowed Buffalo’s Brian Gionta to cut the Carolina lead down to one with a shorthanded marker.
Ward fanned on clearing the puck along the boards behind his net with Gionta in pursuit ahead of Carolina forward Tuevo Teravainen who was the closest backchecker on the play.
The Sabres captain picked up the puck and wrapped it around the opposite post and past Ward to make it a 3-2 game.
“I knew I wasn’t in a good spot,” Ward said chuckling.
“Just when you thought Christmas was over – I was in a giving mood with another gift to Gionta – a big mistake on my part. Right there and then, that’s a test mentally. You can change the momentum of the game, change the way that you’re playing, but I didn’t let that affect me. I felt really comfortable and confident in the net. I wasn’t going to let that mishap change the way I moved on from there.”
Once again, Carolina held a one-goal lead to start the next period, and Peters challenged his team to ‘dig in’.
“I thought when it was 3-1 and we got the power play, I thought that was the chance to throw the dagger, right there,” Peters said.
“But it went the other way a little bit with the shorty, so then what are you gonna do? It’s a one-goal game – are you gonna fold your tent, or are you gonna dig in? You’re gonna dig in which is the right answer.”
While Buffalo earned valuable scoring chances early in the period, Ward denied them.
The Hurricanes reestablished their two-goal lead when Rask scored at the 4:15 mark.
Following a Noah Hanifin point shot, Nilsson offered up a big rebound to his left and Rask put it away for his 13th goal of the season.
Skinner added his third point of the game with an assist on the goal.
Ward continued to make stops, including denying successive breakaway opportunities from Evander Kane with a glove save, and Ryan O’Reilly with a pad save to maintain Carolina’s two-goal lead.
Leading 4-2, McGinn’s second goal, his fourth of the season, came about as the result of a penetrating rush by Staal.
Following on the play, McGinn snuck into the low slot between two Buffalo defenders and one-timed a quick shot up high after Staal circled behind the net and slid the puck to him.
It finalized the score, but not for lack of effort on the Sabres’ part.
Carolina just turned on the jets and hit another level that Buffalo couldn’t match.
“We play at a high level with all four lines finding a way to play with pace,” Peters said.
“That’s when we’re at our best.”