BUFFALO - Andrej Sekera's first season with the Carolina Hurricanes is turning into a career year.
Sekera's goal at 9:50 of the third period broke a tie and the Hurricanes beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-3 at First Niagara Center on Thursday night. His slap shot from the blue line eluded Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth for his career-high eighth goal of the season and first against his former team.
"Good things happen when you have traffic in front and somebody's shooting," Sekera said. "The goalie cannot see. When he doesn't see the puck, it's tough for him to stop it and I guess he didn't see it."
Sekera spent parts of seven seasons with the Sabres before being traded to Carolina for defenseman Jamie McBain and a second-round pick at the 2013 NHL Draft.
"It's very possible he could be our MVP this year," Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said of Sekera, whose 28 points are one short of his career high. "From day one he's been our most consistent player. He's had a very, very good year so far. We're really pleased with him."
Jiri Tlusty hit the empty net with less than a second to play for Carolina (22-19-9), which overcame three one-goal deficits to win for the second time in as many nights.
"We've played in a lot of one-goal games so far and I think learning the good and the bad over the course of the year is starting to take its course now where we're starting to come up with some points in these tight games," Muller said.
The Sabres fell to 13-29-7 and are 0-3-2 in their past five games.
"We're finding ways to lose hockey games versus finding ways to win hockey games," Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said.
Cody Hodgson put the Sabres ahead at 10:15 of the first period. He stole the puck from Hurricanes defenseman Jay Harrison and fired a slap shot past goalie Anton Khudobin for his 11th goal of the season.
Jeff Skinner tied it at 12:28 with his 22nd goal of the season. He intercepted Sabres defenseman Alexander Sulzer's pass, skated in and sent a backhanded shot past Enroth.
"[Skinner] always surprises us, he can score some very unique goals," Muller said. "That one is a perfect example. He's hot. He's a natural goal scorer and he's a game-breaker kind of guy. That was a big goal when he scored there."
Brian Flynn gave the Sabres a 2-1 lead at 3:20 of the second period when he batted the rebound of a Phil Varone shot from his knees at the side of net past Khudobin for his fourth goal of the season. Varone's assist was his first career NHL point. He was called up from Rochester in the American Hockey League on Wednesday.
"Puck drop I looked around; it hits you right then and there," Varone said. "It's just another game when the puck is dropped, and that's how I tried to treat it, but this is something special."
The Hurricanes tied it again at 13:11 when Alexander Semin fired a wrist shot over Enroth's shoulder. Semin gained the zone and sent his shot into the upper corner of the net to make it 2-2.
"Like everybody else, he could be a lot better," Nolan said of Enroth's 28-save performance.
Buffalo took its third lead 48 seconds into the third period when Tyler Ennis cleaned up the rebound of Drew Stafford's shot for his 11th of the season. But Semin tied it again at 7:26 by converting a feed from Eric Staal. He has 12 goals this season, half of them in his past four games.
"Over the last six, seven games there, he's really picked it up," Muller said. "[Semin] is shooting the puck more, he's hitting the net, he's on a roll right now, it helps… He's becoming our money guy right now with Skinner scoring some big goals over the last two weeks."
Khudobin stopped 26 shots for the Hurricanes, who have won eight of the past 11 games. Carolina is fifth in the Metropolitan Division but trails the fourth-place Philadelphia Flyers by three points with two games in hand. The Flyers hold the final wild-card playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
"We seem to kind of quietly do our thing and no one talks about us and that's OK," Muller said. "We've got nine new guys in our lineup this year. That's a lot for the start of the season. It took the first half of the year to really bond them. We're starting to really jell together right now. We're getting the goaltending, our big guys are starting to score and our other guys are playing their roles. You put it together, you're getting some good results."
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