RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes filled the net and handily beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-2 in front of a modest announced crowd of 9,781 at PNC Arena on Thursday.
Jeff Skinner, Jiri Tlusty, Eric Staal, Victor Rask and Riley Nash all posted goals for Carolina while goaltender Cam Ward finished the game with 18 saves to push his season win total up to 11.
Eleven players were involved in setting up and assisting on the Hurricanes’ highest scoring game since beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-1 back on Dec. 18.
“It was important that we played the way we are capable of playing and not sit back and let the game come to us,” Ward said.
Following a scoreless first period that had Carolina outshooting the Sabres 10-5, the Hurricanes exploded for four goals in the second against Sabres netminder Jhonas Enroth, who finished the game making 26 saves in the losing effort.
Both goalies made some exceptional stops during the first 20 minutes of play, but the Hurricanes finally established a quicker, more functional tempo to their offense than what each team had been playing at since the opening puck drop.
“It was rugged out there,” Carolina head coach Bill Peters said.
“It was very disjointed at times. It didn’t seem like there was a lot of flow. Almost like whoever could find their team game first was going to be the team that won it. Luckily, we found it.”
Early in the second period, Alexander Semin, playing for the first time after missing seven games, spun around with possession of the puck in the high slot with multiple pairs of eyes on him, and slid the puck to Skinner who was wide open down low for the redirect.
While Skinner put Carolina ahead 1-0, scoring his ninth goal of the season, it didn’t take Buffalo long to answer back.
Philip Varone scored his first of the season for the Sabres at 5:51 after getting a step on Hurricanes forward Brad Malone inside the Carolina blue line.
With only defenseman John-Michael Liles to beat, Varone used him as a screen and snapped a shot past Ward and tied it 1-1.
The flood gate then finally opened for Carolina as it piled three goals into the net during a span of 79 seconds.
Tlusty, then Staal, then Rask, all got their sticks on the puck and extended the Hurricanes’ lead to 4-1.
The barrage started with 6:10 to play in the period.
Carolina had a two-man advantage and while the power play unit of Staal, brother Jordan, and Elias Lindholm softened Enroth up, it was the next unit of Skinner, Tlutsty, and Nathan Gerbe that started it all.
Tlusty put Carolina ahead by one on a pass from Gerbe and defenseman Justin Faulk – finishing the play by putting the puck through Enroth’s pads.
The Hurricanes’ next goal came at 5:17 (53 seconds later) as defenseman Ryan Murphy, who finished with two assists on the night, kept the puck deep in the Buffalo zone.
As the Sabres got back to even strength, Staal picked it up behind the net, circled and wrapped through the crease with a backhand attempt.
It ricocheted off Enroth’s skate, through his pads, and into the net for the eventual game-winner.
Rask kept the offense churning, as he scored his fifth of the season 26 seconds later by tipping in a Ron Hainsey point shot that extended the Carolina lead to 4-1.
Carolina carried the three-goal lead into the second intermission.
Playing a physical game, Buffalo dished out 45 total hits to Carolina’s 19, and both teams afforded themselves power play opportunities.
While Carolina went 4-for-4 on the penalty kill, Tlusty’s goal stood as the only power player marker the Hurricanes would claim of the three extra-man opportunities they had throughout the game.
The rough play caught up with Staal who was injured early in the third after Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers cross-checked him from behind and into partner Josh Gorges.
The side of Staal’s head collided against Jorges’ head and shoulder area, and the Carolina captain took some time to get up, but skated to the bench on his own.
He promptly went to the dressing room and underwent the mandatory concussion protocol testing before being cleared to return to the game.
“Yeah, I did the whole run-through,” Staal said.
“It was blind. I didn’t see him. He basically caught all head. I was dazed for a second there – it took a little bit to get my bearings back. I went through the whole rigmarole there, but I feel fine. See how I’ll wake up tomorrow, but I should be good.”
With 11:43 left, Varone got his stick on the puck and redirected a Tyson Strachan point shot through Ward’s pads with an apparent high stick.
The play was reviewed and it was determined that the goal would stand which brought the Sabres to within two, trailing 4-2.
Nash quickly followed that up, and scored after attempting to tip a Faulk shot from the top of the left circle.
The center got control of the puck in the low slot and wrapped it on the forehand around a sprawling Enroth to finalize the game’s scoring.
“You try to be motivated, try to win every game regardless of the team you’re playin’,” Staal said.
“Obviously we know where both teams are at – both struggling to pick up points, and offense, and goals and all that. Tonight we stuck with it and definitely cranked it up to a level I didn’t think they got to in the second. It was a good effort and a good win.”
Notes: Out of their 13 wins, the Hurricanes have managed to score four or more goals in six of them…Skinner ended an eight-game scoring drought…Staal has posted points in six of his past seven games, scoring five goals in his last six games…Semin’s assist on Skinner’s goal was his first point since Dec. 4, having played in only two games while being either a healthy scratch or injured…Tlusty ended an 11-game scoring drought, having last scored in a 4-2 win over Pittsburgh on Nov. 28….John-Michael Liles and Andrej Nestrasil came off IR with Liles dressing while Nestrasil was scratched and subsequently assigned to Charlotte for conditioning…Forward Chris Terry and defenseman Brett Bellemore were healthy scratches…With players returning from IR, forward Zach Boychuk and defensemen Michal Jordan cleared waivers and were assigned to Charlotte on Wednesday.