BUFFALO, N.Y. – After playing only a few minutes since before Christmas, Manny Legace wasn’t going to let a scare in pre-game warmups force him out.
Jussi Jokinen snapped a third-period tie and added an assist, and backup Legace made 28 saves after taking a slapshot to the throat before the game even began in the Carolina Hurricanes’ 4-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night.
With workhorse Cam Ward sent home for treatment for an upper-body injury, Legace was ready to appear in just his fifth game in the last 28. But it almost didn’t happen after defenceman Aaron Ward’s blast from top of the right circle sent Legace to the ice clutching the bottom of his throat. The 11-year veteran was attended to by a trainer for a couple of minutes before gingerly skating off.
“It probably would have taken a bullet between the eyes to keep me out,” said an upbeat Legace, who has been in the crease for only 7 minutes since Dec. 23. “That scared me. It winded me a little bit, but once I caught my breath I knew my windpipe was fine and I was ready to go.”
Eric Staal extended his points streak to a career-high 11 games with a goal and assist, but could only shake his head while cracking a smile about Legace’s inauspicious start.
“It’s been one of those seasons,” the captain said. “It was kind of, ‘What else is new for us?’ But the great thing about the guys in this locker-room is that no one has quit and no one has felt sorry for each other. We came in here and beat a pretty good team that’s at the top of the conference.”
Things looked bleak for the Hurricanes when Drew Stafford gave the Sabres momentum and a 3-2 lead 2:58 into the third period with a fluky goal that bounced high in the air before ricocheting off Legace’s back and in. But Staal took control of the bench with an urgent message to keep pressing on, which Carolina did.
Tom Kostopoulos tied it at 8:23 after tapping in Sergei Samsonov’s slick pass down low, and Jokinen potted the winner with a slapshot that handcuffed Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller from the top of the left circle with 3:17 remaining in regulation to snap Carolina’s two-game losing streak.
“I don’t know if (Miller) saw it all the way,” Jokinen said. “I got pretty good wood on it, and it was a big goal for us.”
Aaron Ward also scored for Carolina, which has won five of its last seven to improve to 20-30-7.
“We were in trouble but we showed lots of character,” Jokinen said.
The Sabres (32-17-7), meanwhile, continued their slide with another sloppy effort. They lost for the third straight time in regulation for the first time this season, and failed to stretch their one-point Northeast Division-lead over surging Ottawa, winners of 11 straight.
“Everybody’s just a little on edge, maybe,” Miller said. “We should be ready to play. We have to be able to get rid of habits, get rest, and play. There’s a lot of hockey left.”
Stafford scored twice, Andrej Sekera had a goal and two assists, and Miller made 23 saves.
The two teams combined for five third-period goals, with Staal starting things by giving Carolina a 2-1 lead with his team-leading 20th of the season just 34 seconds into the period.
Stafford tied it 24 seconds later with a slap shot from the right circle.
Carolina struck first when Aaron Ward scored his first of the season with just under seven minutes to go in the first period. From the right circle, his snap shot eluded Miller along the ice.
Sekera tied it for Buffalo with 1:25 to go in the first, scoring his second goal in two games with a slapshot from the point.
“I know you face tough stretches,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “My job is to keep everything even keel.”
NOTES: Coach Paul Maurice said Cam Ward, who played in 26 of the previous 27 games after returning from a leg laceration, stiffened up on the team’s flight from Calgary to Buffalo following a loss Wednesday night. … Carolina G Justin Peters was recalled from Albany of the AHL to replace Cam Ward. … Aaron Ward’s goal was his first in 68 games. … The Sabres are 2-6-1 in their last nine games. … Sabres LW Thomas Vanek had two assists.