RALEIGH, N.C. – With the Northeast Division all but wrapped up and their struggles on the road a distant memory, the Buffalo Sabres like where they are less than a month before the NHL playoffs begin.
“If we play like the last three games, it’s going to be tough to beat us,” Buffalo defenceman Toni Lydman said.
Jochen Hecht scored two goals, and Ryan Miller made 27 saves in the Sabres’ 5-3 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday night. Tim Connolly, Tim Kennedy and Lydman also scored, and Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek each had two assists.
The Sabres won their third straight to finish 3-1-1 on a five-game trip and move nine points ahead of Montreal and Ottawa in the Northeast.
It’s a far cry from earlier this month when Buffalo was in the midst of an eight-game losing streak away from home.
“I think we’ve established that we are back on track, especially on the road,” Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said.
Sergei Samsonov, Brandon Sutter and Eric Staal scored for the Hurricanes, eight points behind Boston in the chase for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Hurricanes beat division leaders Pittsburgh and Washington in their previous two games but struggled against the Sabres, who extinguished most of the drama with a four-goal second period.
“We were short on steam, I thought,” Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. “Not necessarily effort, even though maybe there were times it looked like it.”
After Connolly scored on the power play in the first, Hecht scored consecutive goals early in the second to build the Sabres’ lead.
The first came when he charged up the right side and quickly changed from backhand to forehand and smacked the puck through goalie Justin Peters’ legs.
Hecht made it 3-0 when Peters overplayed his rush along the left boards, allowing Hecht to wrap the puck around the far side of the net.
“I tried to wrap around a couple of times earlier, and this time the goalie wasn’t able to recover back,” Hecht said. “Thank God.”
Manny Legace replaced Peters at the 8:45 mark of the second after Peters couldn’t stop Lydman’s wrist shot on a 2-on-1.
The Hurricanes scored their first goal 12 seconds after Lydman’s goal, with Samsonov deflecting Brett Carson’s wrist shot past Miller.
Buffalo built its lead back to four almost immediately. Kennedy accelerated to the net past Carolina defenceman Brian Pothier, received a pass from Vanek and beat Legace with a nice backhand deke.
“I don’t want to lay this on our goaltenders’ stick, but clearly you can’t give up five goals on 15 shots,” Maurice said.
The Hurricanes added two goals in the third – Sutter on a shot from the side boards; Staal on a slap shot on the power play.
NOTES: The teams split the four-game season series. … Hecht has five points in four games against Carolina. … Hurricanes defenceman Jamie McBain has five points in his first four NHL games.