BUFFALO, N.Y. – Thanks to goalie Cam Ward and Jeff Skinner’s power-play goal, the Carolina Hurricanes overcame their struggles on special teams.
Skinner scored with 1:24 left and Ward made 39 saves in a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night.
And if that wasn’t enough, the Hurricanes got a short-handed goal each from Brandon Sutter and Tim Brent to win their second straight game after an 0-2-1 start.
“It was a big win for us, a character win is the best way to describe it,” Skinner said. “You look at the PK (penalty kill), and the job they did tonight.”
The penalty killers certainly did their part in blanking the Sabres on all six opportunities. But it was Skinner who sealed the victory, his goal coming 57 seconds after Buffalo’s Drew Stafford tied the game at three.
With Thomas Vanek off for tripping, Hurricanes forward Jussi Jokinen fed a pass through the middle into the right circle, where Skinner one-timed it.
Goalie Ryan Miller got a piece of the shot with his left pad, but the puck had enough momentum to trickle in the net.
“That was an unbelievable pass from Jokinen,” Skinner said. “I don’t know how he pulled that one off.”
Jay Harrison also scored for Carolina in spoiling the Sabres’ first game in Buffalo after opening the season with two wins in Europe last weekend.
Derek Roy and Vanek also scored for a Sabres team that got off to a fast start before unravelling as the game progressed.
And don’t blame it on jet lag, because Buffalo was coming off a five-day break since a 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings in Berlin.
“We didn’t take care of the puck at all tonight,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “We created a great number of opportunities, but we gave up some beauties. And all those beauties were given up because of plays we didn’t need to make. … We burned ourselves tonight.”
Carolina has scored a power-play goal in each of its past two games after opening the season 2 of 14. And their penalty killers have gone 11 of 11 after opening the season allowing five power-play goals on 16 chances.
Coach Paul Maurice, who was coaching his 900th game with the Hurricanes franchise including two seasons when the franchise was in Hartford, said the special teams numbers weren’t as bad as they seemed.
That didn’t mean he wasn’t pleased with the improvement.
“That’s the key, that’s back-to-back games where I think our penalty kill has easily been the difference for us,” Maurice said.
It helps when Ward’s on top of his game.
He got a glove up to get a piece of Brad Boyes’ sharp backhand from the slot five minutes in. Then there were his two stops late in the second period. After stopping Vanek’s hard shot from the right circle, Ward got down in time to prevent rookie Luke Adam from stuffing in the rebound.
And his pad save to foil Jason Pominville’s one-timer from the slot eventually led to Brent’s short-handed goal with 6:59 left in the second period that put the Hurricanes up 3-2.
With the Sabres’ power-play unit caught in the Carolina zone, Jiri Tlusty broke up the right wing on a 2-on-1 break. Tlusty got a shot off that was stopped by Miller, only to have Brent convert the rebound.
“He’s got the poise. He looked so calm in the net tonight,” Sutter said of Ward. “He’s been good for us, and we’ve got to start helping him out some more, too.”
No problem, the goalie said in giving credit to how the Hurricanes answered with a goal each time Buffalo had scored.
“We were able to have an answer for all those goals against,” Ward said. “It was great to see the power-play connection on that last one. … When you get a power-play like that, you need to bear down, and we certainly did.”
The Hurricanes nearly scored a third short-handed goal midway through the third period, when Sutter snapped a shot off the post during a 2-on-1 break.
“It’s a tough one to handle,” Stafford said. “We need to clean up our power play a little bit, take a little more responsibility and pride in not letting teams get those short-handed chances.”
Notes: Maurice became the seventh NHL coach to reach 900 games with one team. With the win, his record with Carolina/Hartford improved to 378-380-142. … Buffalo’s Lindy Ruff coached his 1,069th game with the Sabres, and ranks second on the list behind Al Arbour (1,500, New York Islanders). … Entering games Friday, there were only seven short-handed goals scored so far this season, including two by the Penguins. It was the first time Carolina scored two short-handed goals since a 5-2 win at Washington on March 3, 2009.