BUFFALO, N.Y. – Sabres goalie Ryan Miller refused to fall into the trap of celebrating a much-needed victory, no matter how lopsided it was or how much life it breathed into Buffalo’s playoff push.
The only thing Miller knew, following a 7-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night, was the Sabres still have plenty of work to do if they intend to climb back into playoff contention over the final three weeks of the season.
“We need to be consistent,” said Miller, who stopped 27 shots but was already looking ahead to Buffalo’s game at Toronto on Saturday. “Tonight, it’s get a quick meal, get on a bus and that’s about as long as you can think about it.”
Derek Roy had two goals and an assist in a game in which the Sabres scored four times on their first seven shots, and eased the dreadful memories of a 7-3 loss at Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
In snapping an 0-2-2 skid and winning for only the second time in eight games (2-4-2), the Sabres crept within two points of eighth-place Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The Hurricanes had a five-game winning streak snapped, and had their lead atop the Southeast Division cut to five points after both Washington and Florida won Friday.
The Sabres had much more on the line, and played like it.
They won despite being without three injured regular defencemen, and received production from several unlikely sources: Fourth-line centre Adam Mair had a goal and two assists, and rookie tough guy Patrick Kaleta also scored. Ales Kotalik, Paul Gaustad and Daniel Paille added goals for the Sabres in a blowout reminiscent of their 8-1 win over Carolina at Buffalo on Dec. 1.
“I like the fact that our grit guys grabbed hold of the game for us and won us the game,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “I said this morning that the headline tomorrow should read, ‘Desperate team wins game.”‘
Carolina had nothing in response. Scott Walker spoiled Miller’s shutout with a short-handed goal midway through the third period.
The Hurricanes were first undone by numerous defensive miscues, providing little help to Cam Ward, and then lost their cool. They were given 20 penalties totalling 81 minutes.
Ward made three saves and was pulled after Gaustad shovelled in a loose puck in front to put Buffalo ahead 4-0 before 14 minutes elapsed.
“We got off to a terrible start. We just weren’t ready,” forward Eric Staal said. “It was just a bad game. Whatever the score ended up, we weren’t very close.”
The Hurricanes lost for only the third time in 11 games (8-2-1). They return home to face Ottawa on Sunday.
“We’ve been playing really well. The most important thing right now is regroup and forget about this,” Walker said.
Paille, coming off a two-goal game, opened the scoring 4:44 in when he fanned on his first attempt in the slot, but had time to reload to snap the puck past Ward. Mair scored 22 seconds later, driving to the net and chipping in Drew Stafford’s centring pass.
Roy, with a short-handed goal, and Gaustad scored 3 minutes apart to produce Buffalo’s eighth four-goal period of the season.
“It’s good to come out and have a decisive victory and build some confidence,” said Mair, whose three-point night was a career high. “But these last 10 games, we need to continue to play hard, play desperate and put it on the line.”
Notes: Staal had a five-game point streak snapped, as did Sergei Samsonov, Joseph Corvo and Matt Cullen. … The Hurricanes were attempting to win six straight for the first time since a 9-0 run midway through the 2005-06 season. … Sabres D Michael Funk made his season debut after being called up to fill in for a depleted blue-line that lost Nathan Paetsch to a concussion on Wednesday. Funk had two assists in five games with Buffalo last season. … Sabres C Tim Connolly (hip) missed his second straight game. … Buffalo had 13 penalties, totalling 48 minutes.