It was a must-win game for the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night after their disappointing 3-0 loss in Columbus on Friday.
The start wasn’t ideal, but the Hurricanes charged back from an early deficit to beat the Buffalo Sabres by a final score of 4-2 at PNC Arena.
Not unlike Friday night, the Hurricanes found themselves on the wrong side of an early goal. Just over two minutes in, Jeff Skinner managed to bank the puck off of Curtis McElhinney’s stick in front and through the veteran goalie’s legs. The goal marked the end of a 13-game goal drought for the former Hurricane and made it a 1-0 game.
At the 13:52 mark, the Canes got on the board. A shot from Jordan Martinook squeaked through Linus Ullmark and Lucas Wallmark was at the right place at the right time to knock the loose puck over the goal line and tie the hockey game at one goal apiece.
After their slow start, the Canes had a stronger finish to the first period and, at the end of 20, the game was knotted up.
The Hurricanes didn’t lose any momentum at the outset of the second period. On a partial line change, all of Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, and Andrei Svechnikov were on the ice, and naturally, it resulted in a goal.
A lengthy cycling shift eventually ended with Teravainen dishing a pass through the legs of Jack Eichel and right on the tape of Svechnikov, who netted his third goal in three games to give the Hurricanes a 2-1 lead.
Play evened out as the period wore on, and Curtis McElhinney was forced to make a handful of big-time stops, including one on Evan Rodrigues as he flew in on a partial breakaway down the left wing.
Though Buffalo started to accumulate chances, it was Carolina that deposited the next goal, and it was one that Linus Ullmark will probably not forget for a while.
A long cycling shift in the offensive zone from the fourth line allowed the Canes to make a partial line change. In the corner, Justin Williams hauled in a pass from Justin Faulk, and the captain’s impossible-angled shot somehow found its way by the big Swedish goalie to extend Carolina’s lead to two goals.
Both teams went on a man advantage in the third period. An early chance for the Canes saw a lot of quality zone time from the top unit, but they couldn’t finish anything off. The second unit then, largely, wasn’t anything close to good.
With just under 12 minutes left in the third period, Trevor van Riemsdyk got whistled for holding, and the Sabres were given a big chance to cut the Canes lead in half. It was not to be, though. The Hurricanes put together a great penalty kill and kept the Sabres at bay.
Adding insult to injury, Jordan Staal unleashed a spin-o-rama backhand goal from the slot to make it a 4-1 game. The goal was his 500th point in the NHL. The crowd gave him a huge ovation afterwards. It was a special moment.
Girgensons netted a garbage time goal for the Sabres before the game ended with a final score of 4-2 in favor of the home team.
It was a must-win for the Hurricanes, and they pulled through. The win secured their playoff positioning, and with the Penguins, Islanders, Canadiens, and Blue Jackets going a combined 0-3-1 on the evening, it came up all Canes on the out-of-town scoreboard.
The Hurricanes play their next four games on home ice against Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, and Montreal. Big games ahead for the Canes, who looked a lot more like the team that we’ve seen since the beginning of January on Saturday.
[On the slow start] The first period wasn’t our best, but Mac did a great job keeping it at (1-0). (Wallmark’s) line, I thought, was good the whole night for us. That line, they always seem to get us going again. They brought some energy and they brought the buzz and, obviously, that big goal.
[On how important it is to avoid losing consecutive games at this time of year] It’s big. It’s what good teams do. When you have a tough one, you want to bounce back and come back with a good effort and build on that. You can see the leadership and character in the room. Everyone believes in each other.
[On his 500th point being a spin-o-rama goal] (through laughs) Not exactly my style. I wasn’t playing all that great during that game, anyways, so I kinda just went for it this time. Maybe I should do that more often...
[On how important his level mentality is] Yeah, eight goals (against Winnipeg last week).. that’s a tough pill to swallow. It was good to come back tonight and get a little confidence back.
[On how hard it is to focus on the present with the playoffs looming on the horizon] The reality is that we’re in, but we’re not in by much. It doesn’t take much, if you slip for a couple of games, you could be on the outside looking in. Right now, the reality is that we have to win some games still to get in (a playoff) position and then we’ll go from there.
[On how good is curling game is - Canes had a curling storm surge] (through laughs) Not good. I wasn’t too sure what we were doing there.
[On Wallmark’s goal to tie the game at one] I think it gave us a reset. We were on our heels there, at the start, and they were flying. Actually, from then on, we had a pretty good period and, at least, got things going in the direction that we needed to.
[On how the Canes haven’t lost consecutive games in almost two months] Really?... (we haven’t lost consecutive games in two months?) It’s super important with where we’re at. You just can’t afford any losses. The race is so tight and no one’s losing around us. It’s never been easy, it’s never going to be easy. We just gotta keep forging ahead. We gotta win.
[On if Svechnikov’s overall game is evolving] I think so. We’re relying on him a lot and he’s playing big minutes. You can’t rely on a player unless he’s going to be responsible, and he has been. He’s still learning every day, but he’s going to be a really, really good player in this league for a long time.
[On Jordan Staal] You know how I feel about him. He’s just one of those all-around players that every coach loves to have on their team. He comes to play every night and that was a huge goal, obviously. He doesn’t get rewarded enough for the good play that he has, so it’s nice to see him get that one (his goal), especially for his 500th point. That’s a good one to remember.
[On Jordan Staal receiving the big ovation after his 500th point] Our fans, they know him. They appreciate the effort and the kind of player he is. They see him every night, it’s the rest of the hockey world that doesn’t quite understand, I don’t think, or appreciate him, but we do. It was nice that they did that (give the ovation), but I think we all know what kind of player he is.