RALEIGH, N.C. – Jiri Tlusty scored the eventual game-winning goal as the Carolina Hurricanes edged the Buffalo Sabres 4-2 at PNC Arena on Thursday.
Jeff Skinner, Alexander Semin, and Nathan Gerbe rounded out the Hurricanes’ scoring to win the season series against Buffalo.
It took until the latter part of the third period to get the job done for Carolina as both teams were tied 1-1 after the first period of play.
Carolina unleashed a shooting barrage on Sabres netminder Michal Neuvirth who faced 55 total shots and kept his team in contention to win it throughout.
When the two teams last met in Buffalo on Feb. 25, it was then Sabres goalie Ryan Miller who made 36 saves to beat the Hurricanes 3-2 during the final minute of play.
However, this time Carolina managed to put a three-goal scoring flurry together during the final nine minutes of play that earned the team its fourth straight win over Buffalo in Raleigh.
“We were in the same shoe in Buffalo,” Tlusty said.
“We were outshooting them a lot and you know what, we couldn’t pull (out) the win there. Today we kinda’ stuck with the plan and unfortunately they were up 2-1, but we stuck with it. A big goal by Sem, we tied it up and then he made a nice play to me and I shot it in. It was a team effort again. We stayed the course for 60 minutes and that’s huge.”
While the offense beat a previous season record in putting pucks on the net set back on Mar. 2 against Anaheim (52), Hurricanes goalkeeper Cam Ward made 21 saves at the other end of the ice and earned his second win in as many games.
The Sabres dominated play during the first five minutes of play, outshooting the Hurricanes 4-0 until they found their bearings and started launching shots at Neuvirth.
Buffalo eventually broke the scoreless tie midway through the first period.
After getting a pass at the Hurricanes blue line, Buffalo forward Tyler Ennis was knocked off the puck by Tlusty.
Being one step ahead of the Czech forward, Ennis was subsequently awarded a penalty shot on the play.
Ennis didn’t waste his opportunity as his shot on Ward beat the veteran keeper high and to his stick side at 10:22 to put the Sabres ahead 1-0.
The successful penalty shot was the first of the season allowed by Carolina, but the second attempted against the Hurricanes as backup keeper Anton Khudobin saved an Alex Ovechkin penalty shot attempt in Washington back on Jan. 2.
“It’s a tough one,” Tlusty said of getting called on the play that eventually resulted in the Sabres’ opening goal.
It only took the Hurricanes three minutes to even the score off a faceoff deep in the Sabres zone to Neuvirth’s left.
Elias Lindholm won the draw back to Ryan Murphy on the point, who then found Skinner open in the near corner.
From there, Skinner added to his team-leading scoring total, tallying his 26th goal of the season by beating the Sabres goalie to the short side and tied the game 1-1 at 13:20.
“I think we played pretty well,” Skinner said.
“We were in their end for a lot of it. I think our forecheck was doin’ a good job and when we needed him, Wardo was big for us. D-men were movin’ it up quick. Overall, I thought it was a pretty good game.”
The Hurricanes’ best chance to take the lead later in the period resulted when Semin hit the post on a rebound opportunity on the power play.
With two minutes remaining after Neuvirth made a save on another wide open shot from Skinner, Semin’s spin-around attempt rung off the iron and kept the score tied as both teams ended the first period tied at a goal apiece.
The Hurricanes continued to chip away at the Buffalo defense during the second period, outshooting them 22-4, but Neuvirth was the savior on each Hurricanes shot attempt he faced, including making back-to-back saves on Andrei Loktionov and Drayson Bowman at the 12-minute mark.
“He played well,” Jordan Staal said of the Buffalo netminder.
“He made some good saves. I think there were times we were makin’ him look good, but he definitely had some ones that were really big. Fortunately enough, we got the extra one to put them away.”
Buffalo’s best scoring chance of the period was stopped by Ward as a backhand shot from Ennis was set up from a boardside pass from Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers.
Beginning the third period still tied 1-1, Carolina couldn’t capitalize on its fourth power play opportunity and both teams continued to keep both goalies busy.
The Sabres took the lead at the 8:43 mark of the period when Cory Conacher’s stick handling work behind the Carolina net paid off as his missed wraparound attempt ended up on Drew Stafford’s blade on the other side of the crease.
Buffalo’s most productive point producer in its last 16 games had some help on the play as the puck deflected off of Tlusty’s and defenseman Andrej Sekera’s skates before he was able to slide it past Ward.
The Hurricanes tied it up 2-2 just over three minutes later when Sekera passed the puck from the point to Semin who one-timed a shot that deflected off Buffalo defenseman Mike Weber and beat Neuvirth for Carolina’s lone power play goal of the night on five extra-man opportunities afforded to them.
Tlusty then gave Carolina the 3-2 lead with 6:07 to play on a setup from linemates Semin and Staal.
Working the puck from behind the Buffalo net, Staal slid the puck to Semin in the corner.
Semin then backhanded a pass to Tlusty who was wide open in the faceoff circle and beat Neuvirth with a snap shot that flashed into the top right corner of the net.
“I had too many guys on the blocker side,” Tlusty said of setting up the game-winning shot.
“I just saw a little space between guys on the short side and I tried high and it went in.”
As the Sabres pressed to tie the game by pulling Neuvirth for the extra skater, Gerbe scored an insurance empty-net goal with 0.4 seconds left on the clock to finalize the Hurricanes 4-2 win.