RALEIGH — Of course Jeff Skinner scored a goal in his return to PNC Arena on Friday night. But the Carolina Hurricanes upstaged their erstwhile young dynamo thanks to a hat trick of Buffalo Sabres own goals and a Justin Faulk one-punch takedown on their way to an 4-2 win, their sixth win in the last seven games.
Three times, the Canes were rewarded with goals that went in directly off of a Buffalo defender. The first opened the scoring, Micheal Ferland getting credit for a goal that looked like hockey version of the old Michael Jordan/Larry Bird McDonald’s commercials: off the back of Sabres goalie Carter Hutton, off the top of the net, back into the crease and finally in off Marco Scandella.
With 21 seconds left in the first period, just eight seconds into a Buffalo power play, the man of a thousand storylines scored his 30th. It was vintage Skinner, collecting a rebound and burying it past Curtis McElhinney to tie it. Skinner, who had received a lengthy video tribute and a standing ovation earlier in the first period, broke a tie with John Tavares and moved into sole possession of second place in the chase for the Rocket Richard Trophy, two goals behind Alex Ovechkin.
The second period saw a run of oddball goals give the Canes the lead. Justin Williams had the nicest of the bunch, going top-shelf on Hutton to extend his goal-scoring streak to four straight games at 4:30. Thirty seconds later, Jason Pominville fired off a rocket of a one-timer to tie it again, but it only took 42 more seconds for Sebastian Aho to score the first of his two goals, neither of which actually went in directly off his stick.
The first saw him victimize Rasmus Dahlin with a pinball shot seconds after he had missed an empty net trying to clean up a Ferland rebound. Seven minutes later, he did it again, this time banking the puck off Jake McCabe and through Hutton’s legs before the goalie had any idea where the puck was.
Late in the period, Faulk took exception to a low Johan Larsson hit at the Buffalo blue line, and the normally mild-mannered defenseman uncorked a right fist that sent Larsson tumbling to the ice and both players to an early shower for what were oddly judged to be roughing penalties, a minor for Larsson and a double-minor for Faulk.
Ferland, whose name has been kicked around in trade rumors of increasing volume over the past week, earned his first career three-point night with the opening goal and assists on both of Aho’s goals. The reconstituted line of Ferland, Aho and Teuvo Teravainen tallied three goals and seven points, and either Aho or Teravainen have now recorded a point on 55 of the Hurricanes’ 116 goals this season.
The Canes averted disaster twice within a matter of seconds with 12:30 to go as Pominville was robbed on a one-timer by McElhinney, then on the follow up Pominville missed a wide-open net wide right. It was a theme for the Sabres, who had a glorious chance on a power play a couple of minutes later when Sam Reinhart was all alone to McElhinney’s right in the far circle and fired to the same corner that Pominville had hit minutes earlier.
The Sabres had a great chance with 5:15 to go, when Evan Rodrigues nearly beat McElhinney through the legs but Calvin de Haan calmly shoveled the puck back under his goaltender for a stoppage. But two minutes later, the Hurricanes scored an own goal of their own to pull the Sabres back to within one. Kyle Okposo got credit for the goal on a centering pass that was tipped over McElhinney’s shoulder by Saku Maenalanen.
But the Sabres came no closer despite pulling Hutton with two minutes left, and the Canes bounced back from the previous night’s loss to the Lightning to give McElhinney his personal fourth straight win and move to within five points of the Sabres for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
They Said It
We weren’t very good, especially in the first period. We were very, very fortunate. We got a really lucky bounce and didn’t play well at all. But we played better as the game went on. We played hard; execution wasn’t very good. The goalie came up with some nice saves when we needed them. We got a couple breaks, and that was nice to see. We were a little deflated after last night.
[On Ferland:] When he’s playing his game, what he can do is that physical presence getting in on the forecheck, but he has a scoring touch and can make play. He’s a super effective player, and he was obviously our best player out there tonight.
[On Svechnikov:] We talk about it pretty much daily. Sometimes you just have to let it go, because the more you talk about it, it might just be in his head. Young guys, they don’t get the benefit of the doubt. Ten years from now, he’ll be doing those things, he’s not going to get those calls. He has some bad junior hockey habits, and he’s learning the hard way a little bit here. But he will. The kid wants to be great, and he’s going to do everything he can to shore up any of his shortcomings, and this is one of them.
[On Aho at center:] I mean, I think he can play defense if he had to. He’s a smart hockey player. The whole question was where is he going to be the best. It wasn’t “could he play center”; is that where he would dominate or be the most effective? Right now he’s done a great job.
We kind of rotated around in the past, and we decided based on a little prescout thing that we would try to get our best players out against their best line tonight to go chance for chance and see how it worked out. We got lucky. We got a couple bounces to go our way.
[On Williams:] What can you say about him? I’ve said it all along; I haven’t wavered a bit. We knew what we were getting out of him. He’s going to have some stinker games — just like all of us — but he keeps playing, every shift, regardless. If it’s a bad shift, a good shift, the next one’s the same. He’s consistent. That’s why he’s a pro, a great pro, and has been his whole career. He’s leading this team that way. Every day he comes to the rink, does it the same way, no excuses good or bad, he gives you everything he has. That’s what we ask from all our guys.
Huge. Definitely huge. You can either go on one way or the other: tough loss, felt we deserved better, blah blah blah, you’ve heard that before this season. But to jump back here for a team that was waiting for us last night — big win.
We don’t seem to make things easy. We get up a couple goals, give up one late, then we are really scrambling. That we have to clean up. I’m happy we’re getting the two points, but it’s important to make it easy on ourselves if we can.
You always lean on experiences you have, good or bad, they’re going to make you better one way or the other. Do I wish we had won last night? Yeah, but as I said, a really good bounce back effort and a big win.
That’s a team we’re chasing, and probably a team we’re going to have to chase to get into the playoffs. They’re ahead of us. We want to be where they are. But we can’t really look at the standings yet. We just need to keep plodding along.
Me and Turbo try to make plays, and Ferls is a really good power forward. He goes to the net hard, he checks hard, he is just a big body out there who creates so much space for us. He can make some plays too.
I feel like yesterday we played a better game than today, but that’s how it goes. That was a big win for us. I’m glad we found a way. We played a very good game yesterday and didn’t get the result, but great bounce back.
When somebody that’s as big a player as Jordan is out of the lineup, somebody else has to step up and he plays 20-plus minutes every night. Those minutes are out there, and I try to take those minutes too.
We thought we deserved better, at least a point last game. But I think it was nice to have a game right away, we can park that one and move forward, and that’s what we did.
It’s been a weird schedule for sure, but it’s been nice because we haven’t had to practice, so that’s nice.
[On his goal:] His stick was forcing me - I don’t know if he wanted me to chip it or what, but I just tried throwing it on net. I didn't want it to get deflected, and it was a good bounce. It’s nice when you start getting the bounces for sure.
[On Aho:] He’s real easy to play with. It’s just like playing with Johnny [Gaudreau] in Calgary - enough isn’t enough ever for those two guys. You go out there and you get some scoring chances, and the next shift Fishy is yelling down my throat like “get the puck in, let’s go, let’s keep it going.” That’s what makes those guys special players. They never take their foot off the gas.
- This game is weird. (I mean hockey generally, but that also applies to this specific game.) Earlier in the season the Canes couldn’t buy a goal. Now they’re scoring pinball goals seemingly at will. Go figure.
- Man, are the Hurricanes stuck between a rock and a hard place with Ferland. If his representation is truly being unreasonable on a contract offer - defined here as something in the Jordan Staal/presumed Teuvo Teravainen neighborhood of $6 million AAV, because there’s no way the Canes are willing to pay Ferland that on a long-term deal - and won’t budge, then the Hurricanes have every reason to explore a trade. But it comes at the expense of some undeniable chemistry with Aho and Teravainen.
- Remember when the Blues were over a barrel with Kevin Shattenkirk a few years ago, trying to make the playoffs while facing the reality of him leaving and eventually trading him to Washington? This is basically that situation all over again.
- It’s hard to believe that, prior to tonight, Ferland had never had a three point night playing with the likes of Aho and Gaudreau.
- This is a fantastic stat from Cory Lavalette, late of this very website:
Jeff Skinner is minus-2 tonight. Now minus-97 in games involving the Hurricanes, plus-13 since joining the Sabres. ♂️— Cory Lavalette (@corylav) January 12, 2019
- The Canes have won seven straight over the Sabres, their longest winning streak over any opponent.
- As far as I can tell - thank you, Hockey Reference - Justin Williams is on his first four-game goal streak since a five-game stretch in March and April of 2013, when he scored six goals for the Kings.
- The Dougie Counter: 209 straight games with a shot, and counting.
- The Canes were going to practice tomorrow, but understandably called it off given that they’re back on the ice in a little over 36 hours to take on the Predators on Sunday afternoon.