RALEIGH, N.C. – There was no shortage of speed, shots, and hard hits dished out when the Carolina Hurricanes hosted the Buffalo Sabres at PNC Arena on Saturday.
It was literally a game of inches, and goals were hard to come by for both teams who each played in the second half of a back-to-back set.
Joakim Nordstrom was the lucky one for Carolina while Evander Kane countered for Buffalo before Lee Stempniak’s shootout marker clinched a 2-1 win for the Hurricanes.
Carolina goaltender Cam Ward made 23 saves while the Sabres’ Anders Nilsson made 21 stops in the closely checking affair.
It extended Carolina’s point streak at home to nine games, tallying a recent 8-0-1 record, and finally posting a victory over the Sabres in the two teams’ last seven overall meetings dating back to Mar. 13, 2014.
“We competed real hard in a back-to-back situation,” Ward said.
“I thought they played pretty stingy also too. It was kind of a game where there wasn’t a whole lot goin’ on, both teams are kind of waiting for opportunities, but we controlled the play for the first 40 minutes. And you kind of have to give them credit for making a push there in the third period.”
Buffalo played a sound positional and physical game, and dished a total of 35 hits to Carolina’s 20 for the game, but couldn’t deny the Hurricanes the opportunity to get quality shots off, particularly during the first two periods.
“We had the puck a lot tonight through 40,” Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters said.
“They had the puck a lot on the last 20 and we had the puck a lot in overtime. That’s how it felt.”
Following the opening faceoff, Carolina dominated puck possession and unleashed four shot attempts on Nilsson during the first three minutes of play before Ward got tested a minute later with the Sabres’ first shot of the game.
It looked like a different game than the Hurricanes played in suffering a 4-3 shootout loss to Washington the night before.
While the Caps looked to make the big takeaway checks and cause turnovers using individual skill and ability, the Sabres played the same five-man game that Carolina employed, be it on offense or defense.
The gaps and spaces the Hurricanes worked within the night before were not there against Buffalo, so they had to work harder to find the opportunities to score.
“It was tight both ways,” alternate captain Jordan Staal said.
“There wasn’t really a whole lot of room on both sides. It looked like both teams played a back-to-back and it was not as crispy as both teams would like, but we found a way to get the two points and we’ll take it.”
Carolina opened the game’s scoring on the forecheck when Jay McClement caused Buffalo’s Zach Bogosian to fan at clearing the puck from the front of Nillson’s crease before Nordstrom shocked the keeper with a point-blank snap shot.
The forward’s third of the season gave Carolina a 1-0 lead with 5:56 to play in the opening period with McClement and defenseman Brett Pesce earning assists on the play.
The Hurricanes maintained their goal advantage heading into the first intermission.
The second period highlighted more quick-moving offensive drives towards the Buffalo zone from Carolina.
It became a battle for possession through the neutral zone with select opportunities on Nilsson and Ward effectively resisted and denied.
“There wasn’t a lot in the second period on both sides,” Buffalo head coach Dan Bylsma said.
“They were playing the patient game and clogging the middle of the ice and not giving us a lot, and vice versa.”
Carolina’s leading scorer, Jeff Skinner, undressed Nilsson with a deke to the left of the keeper before he slid a pass from behind the goal line into the slot but had no one able to tuck it into the open net.
As the puck travelled along the ice, Hurricanes defenseman Ron Hainsey gained control of it and spun into shooting position, but missed wide left with the follow through.
While the Hurricanes hovered all around and through Nilsson’s crease, they couldn’t add to their 1-0 lead as play entered the final five minutes of play in the period.
Another shot attempt from Skinner didn’t make it through.
At the other end, Kane’s wrist shot didn’t get past Ward as he made a stick save and play continued on.
Kane tried to even the score again, but his shot missed high while Buffalo made its most significant offensive push of the period.
As the clock counted down, Skinner unleashed a spinaround slap shot from the top of the right circle that Nilsson stopped with his right pad.
The scoreless period held Carolina’s 1-0 lead heading into the third.
The final 20 minutes of play looked much like the previous 40 as both teams skated and defended hard from end to end, but with Buffalo outchancing Carolina by a 10-3 margin.
The Sabres created many tense moments for the 11,682 who looked on as their grinding style kept Ward and the Hurricanes defense busy.
The energy in the building heightened after Bogosian took Carolina forward Viktor Stalberg out along the boards in the Buffalo zone.
Pesce countered at the other end, launching Ryan O’Reilly into the end boards during an ensuing puck battle.
It was a grinding type of game and the blue-collar work on the ice was acknowledged by those in the stands.
The Sabres dominated play in the Carolina zone for nearly four minutes with intermittent clears by the home side.
The amount and intensity of impact continued to increase as the Hurricanes remained ahead with 9:05 remaining.
Ward made a critical blocker save on a redirect by Matt Moulson off a Brian Gionta centering pass.
Kane tried to break free along the boards in front of the Hurricanes bench, but defenseman Matt Tennyson effectively rubbed him out to deny the play from continuing any closer towards Ward.
It looked as though Carolina employed a shutdown formation, didn’t overplay the puck and kept four lines rolling to keep the puck moving forward.
However, the Sabres finally struck.
With 2:37 to play in regulation, Jake McCabe’s point shot towards the Hurricanes net gave Kane the chance he had looked for all game.
He successfully redirected the puck past Ward to his far side and evened the score 1-1.
Once again, with an energized crowd cheering on, both teams fought to score the go-ahead goal.
Buffalo had the best opportunity, but Ward denied Jack Eichel on his streaking backhand deke attempt from the left boards.
Following Elias Lindholm’s shot wide, both teams headed to overtime, the second in as many nights for both sides.
Buffalo had chances during the early minutes of the extra period as Eichel and Kane almost made the difference if it wasn’t for Ward who made poke checks and a chest save to keep the game going for Carolina.
The Hurricanes countered during the latter part of the frame, but Nilsson made a pad save on Skinner’s redirect of a Victor Rask pass from the corner.
After Slavin missed the net on a slap shot, neither Tuevo Tueravainen nor Aho couldn’t put it away, the last quality attempt either side had as time counted down and they headed into the shootout.
Different than their effort in the skills competition against the Caps, the Hurricanes netted both of their first two opportunities as Lee Stempniak’s backhander and Aho’s backhand-to-forehand deke beat Nilsson while Ward thwarted both Sam Reihart’s and Jack Eichel’s attempts by getting his body and stick in the way.
“To come up with a shootout win, those are pretty rare for me,” Ward said with a smile.
“Those certainly feel good. There’s only one way to get over what happens in the shootout by keep goin’ after them. Today I felt more relaxed and calm than I did last night. I told the boys I was overdue, which is the truth. I just kind of laughed it off and said, ‘whatever happens, happens’. Sometimes you try too hard in a shootout where you kind of have to slow it down because the shooter treats as different than in a regular breakaway.”
“Yeah, we certainly did,” Ward concluded when asked of needing to earn two points.
“Especially giving up a late goal, you don’t want to let these points keep slipping away. We’re accumulating them which is a positive, but two is obviously better than one.”