RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes often say their play mirrors that of captain Eric Staal.
Now that their once-slumping all-star centre seems to be heating up, it’s no coincidence that they’re threatening to escape last place.
Staal had a goal and two assists to lead the Hurricanes past the Buffalo Sabres 4-2 on Friday night.
“As he goes, we go,” forward Chad LaRose said.
LaRose scored the go-ahead goal with 11:50 left, Justin Faulk also scored and Brandon Sutter added an empty-net goal for the Hurricanes, who never trailed in winning for the fourth time in seven games.
“Everyone was engaged and involved in the game,” coach Kirk Muller said. “Everyone felt good about their game, I think. I don’t think we had any passengers. So there is a real good atmosphere on the bench (and) a lot of it was from the players. … That’s good to see. That’s where it’s got to come from.”
One of the Hurricanes’ most consistent performances from start to finish helped them earn points for the third time in four games, as they try to dig out of the Eastern Conference cellar. They moved two points behind Tampa Bay for fourth in the Southeast Division.
And Staal’s surge is a big reason for that recent push.
Now skating on a line with banger Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen, he has three goals and four assists in that four-game span. That’s after he managed no goals and just three assists in the nine games before that—including six games in a row without a point.
“Some nights, you just have more time with the puck than the other nights, (when) you just don’t have that much time and there’s guys in your face,” Staal said.
“I think tonight, our line, we were aggressive, we were physical. When you play with a guy like (Ruutu)—and obviously Jus can find those soft areas and make those passes—but (Ruutu) is a big, physical, strong winger and he’s in on the D and kind of opens up space, and we controlled the puck well.”
Jason Pominville was credited with a bizarre goal and added an assist, and Thomas Vanek also scored for Buffalo. The Sabres have lost nine of 12.
Cam Ward made 31 saves for Carolina while Ryan Miller stopped 31 shots for the Sabres.
That these teams were involved in a tight game at the RBC Center wasn’t much of a surprise: Five of their previous eight meetings here wound up going to overtime, and the Hurricanes won four of those.
For much of the way, this one appeared headed to OT, too—until LaRose broke a 2-2 tie with his 4-on-4 goal midway through the third period.
LaRose skated down the ice on a 2-on-1 rush and sent a hard wrist shot over Miller’s shoulder for his 11th goal and second in two games.
“The pass was blocked,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “He just caught the far side with the shot.”
The Hurricanes then killed a late penalty after Faulk was called for cross checking, and Sutter sealed it with his empty-netter with 1:31 left.
“They’re only really good opportunities if you bury them,” Ruff said. “We work to get position offensively. It was good. Not converting isn’t any good.”
Staal put the Hurricanes up 2-1 in the opening moments of the third when he collected a rebound off the backboards and slipped it behind Miller for his 10th goal.
But an odd bounce led to the Sabres’ tying goal with 12:56 left when Pominville whacked the stick of Carolina defenceman Jamie McBain near the end line. That sent the puck past a disbelieving Ward.
That third-period flurry came after a first period that had no goals but plenty of scoring chances for both teams, and a second that included goals by each team in a 21-second span.
Faulk put Carolina up 1-0 with 17:21 left in the period. He blasted a slap shot past Miller for the Hurricanes’ third power-play goal in nine games. Buffalo tied it moments later when Vanek chipped a rebound past Ward from point-blank range for his team-best 19th goal.
NOTES: Ruff said C Derek Roy will be out “for a little bit oftime” with an unspecified upper-body injury. … Buffalo D Tyler Myers was back in the lineup after missing 19 games with a broken wrist. He rang the post with a slap shot about 11 minutes in. … The Sabres fell to 13-6-4 against Carolina since the teams met in a seven-game Eastern Conference final in 2006. … Carolina moved to .500 (10-10-3) on home ice. … The Hurricanes lead the season series 2-1.