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Recap and Rank ‘em: Hurricanes Topple Sabres, 4-2

The Hurricanes defeated the Buffalo Sabres in convincing fashion to enter the holiday break on a positive note.

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Following a big 4-1 victory on Thursday night in Nashville, the Carolina Hurricanes played host to a Buffalo Sabres team that came in riding high off of a win over the Philadelphia Flyers a night ago.

The Hurricanes set the tone against a weary Buffalo team right from the start, as a dominant opening shift by the line of Jordan Staal, Teuvo Teravainen, and Sebastian Aho resulted in Aho tallying his eighth goal of the year just 33 seconds into the game. The assists on the goal went to Teravainen and Brett Pesce.

“He’s hockey strong, I’ll tell you that,” head coach Bill Peters said of Aho. “He’s a competitive guy... knows exactly what he’s doing, and I thought he was very good tonight. I thought he was dynamic and hung onto pucks and had a lot of confidence.”

“Everybody works hard,” Teravainen said of his line. “We get some chances, we forecheck hard, and after that we get a lot of pucks... there’s of course ups and downs, but I think overall, when we work hard we’re gonna play good.”

The majority of the rest of the game’s first frame went on without incident, with neither team generating much in the way of scoring chances. Cam Ward, who earned his second consecutive start following a strong performance in a victory over Nashville, was rarely tested in the first.

That was until Phil di Giuseppe was whistled for hooking. On the ensuing Buffalo power play, Ward faced his first big threat of the game when Evander Kane walked Jaccob Slavin at the blue line and came in largely unimpeded for a chance during which Ward stood tall. Outside of that look, Buffalo generated nothing else with the man advantage, as they were wholly unable to get set up in the Carolina zone.

At the end of the first, the Hurricanes clung to their 1-0 lead with Buffalo edging Carolina in terms of shots on goal by a margin of eight to six.

A largely uneventful first period would give way to a hectic, five-goal second frame that would ultimately prove decisive.

It got underway with the Hurricanes being awarded their first power play of the night when Evander Kane high-sticked Elias Lindholm just six seconds into the period. Just 22 seconds into THAT penalty, Johan Larsson got caught tripping Noah Hanifin on an attempted breakout, and the Hurricanes got a golden opportunity to extend their lead with a two-man advantage.

They were able to do just that when a cross-crease pass from Lindholm took a friendly bounce off of Staal’s skate and into the net. The Sabres were able to find a quick answer though, as it took less than a minute for Nathan Beaulieu’s first goal of the season the cut the deficit back to one.

Less than two minutes after THAT goal, co-captain Justin Faulk struck with a goal for the first time since late October, as a well-executed 2-on-1 with Aho gave the Hurricanes a 3-1 lead. Teravainen picked up his third assist of the night on the goal as well.

Faulk wasn’t done yet, though, as a 4-on-2 rush for the Hurricanes with Faulk as the trailer led to Slavin finding Faulk with a pass. Faulk had enough space and time on the play to pick his spot, and he made no mistake as the Canes beat Buffalo goaltender Chad Johnson for the fourth time on the night.

“I wasn’t really doubting myself too much,” Faulk said of busting his slump. “I know I could still score goals and generate, but just had to capitalize... it was a good win tonight I think, for the group. We’re happy with our play as of late and hopefully we can keep it going when we get back.”

The second period’s torrid scoring pace continued when Zemgus Girgensons scored his second goal of the year to get the Sabres back within shouting range at 4-2. Budding Canes-killer Jack Eichel picked up his 19th assist of the season on that one.

When all was said and done, the second period was dominated by the Hurricanes from a possession perspective. They held a 24-14 advantage in shots on goal after two.

Going into a third period against a tired team with a multi-goal lead, the Hurricanes looked to slow the game down, lock things up defensively, and get out of the game and into the holiday break with two crucial points.

They were able to do just that, as the Sabres recorded just 7 shots on goal in the third frame, hardly reflective of a team looking for a big late-game push to come from behind. The Hurricanes finished the game with a comfortable 38-21 advantage in that department.

“Hopefully we’ve bent enough in the past, right, that we don’t have to bend much anymore,” Peters said of his team’s late-game approach. “We scored early, we tried to score late.”

With the win, the Hurricanes moved ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference standings. There are now no other teams standing between the Hurricanes and the New York Islanders and Rangers, who hold the two wild card spots.

The Hurricanes return from the holiday break with two crucial home games against some of the other teams jockeying for those wild card spots. The Montreal Canadiens are in town on the 27th, and the aforementioned Penguins make their first trip to Raleigh on the 29th.

Rank the Performances

Here’s your chance to weigh in on how you think the team performed tonight. Upvote the players you think played well and downvote the ones who didn’t.