Coming off of a Friday loss for the second week in a row, the Hurricanes looked to again rebound quickly. At least on paper, the game set up well against a Buffalo Sabres team that has been struggling mightily of late.
But the game did not start well at all. For the second day in a row, the Hurricanes came out a bit flat, and the opponent was better early. For the first time since donning a Hurricanes uniform, Curtis McElhinney looked shaky and unsure of himself out of the gate in Saturday’s game. The team’s slow start was compounded early when Curtis McElhinney more or less scored an own goal on an odd deflection off his own stick and through him into the net. That was followed by a Jack Eichel shot that went right through McElhinney but somehow did not find the net and also another Jeff Skinner shot that beat him but clanged the post. The usually calm McElhinney generally looked a bit scrambly trying to find the puck through most of the first period. But the same hockey gods that did the Canes an unfair deed in terms of opposing goaltending in Friday’s 3-0 loss despite 46 shots repaid the favor a bit. The Hurricanes relieved pressure and pulled even when a harmless Jordan Martinook shot from well out leaked through Buffalo goalie Linus Ullmark. Lucas Wallmark tapped the puck from the blue paint and into the net to tie the game at 1-1. The Hurricanes would escape a lackluster first period lucky to be tied.
The Hurricanes and McElhinney would rebound a bit in the second period just like the night before. Teuvo Teravainen continued his run of heady playmaking plays with a head pass through Eichel’s legs to find Andrei Svechnikov on the back door for an easy goal. Shortly thereafter, Nino Niederreiter had a chance to build the lead but hit the post from point blank range. But the Hurricanes were still a bit sloppy. One run included three consecutive defensive zone turnovers by Pesce, Faulk and Aho. But McElhinney rebounded strongly in the second period, and the hockey gods chimed in again when Justin Williams flipped the puck at the net from an odd angle and then improbably found another hole through Ullmark. At that point, the Hurricanes had some breathing room with a 3-1 lead to end the second period. Though opposing goalie generosity definitely played a huge role too.
The third period was not the most exciting with a bunch of safe chip and chase hockey and a Sabres team that is struggling to generate offense even when desperately needing it. But the period did feature a nice mile stone with Jordan Staal pulling out an out of character spin-o-rama backhand goal for his 500th NHL point. Buffalo would score late to cut the lead to 4-2 but the game was in hand at that point, and 4-2 became the final score.
The game was not a pretty or particularly strong one for the Hurricanes, but on a day when Montreal and Pittsburgh lost in regulation and Columbus lost in overtime, slogging through and collecting two points was more than good enough.
Player and other notes
1) Curtis McElhinney
In his first start since last Friday’s 8-1 loss, McElhinney looked really shaky early. But he settled down and righted the ship quicklyi with a much better second period. From that point on, McElhinney resumed his run of solid play and emerged with a win.
2) Teuvo Teravainen
He continues his recent run of heady passes that are creating goals for those on the ice with him. His recent run includes two deflected point shots on the power and two very similar back door passes to set up tap in goals for Andrei Svechnikov.
3) Jordan Staal
Good for him collecting his 500th point. Obviously that is a huge milestone, and after a long run of often frustrating times as a Hurricane, it is great to see him reach the milestone on home ice in a win with playoff implications.
4) Very productive night in the standings.
With Montreal’s loss to Chicago, the Hurricanes now have a four-game lead with a game in hand for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Columbus lost in overtime, so the Hurricanes are back up a point on Columbus with a game in hand for the first wild card slot.
Finally, Pittsburgh also lost in regulation which pulls the Hurricanes within two points of the third playoff spot for the Metropolitan Division also with a game in hand on Pittsburgh.
Next up is a huge battle for third place in the Metropolitan Division against the Penguins on Tuesday at PNC Arena.