BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - Cody McCormick provided the punch - both physical and offensive - the Buffalo Sabres needed in bouncing back from a dreadful loss.
The checking-line journeyman scored the go-ahead goal, got into a fight and also drew a key penalty in a 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night. The victory came two days after the Sabres squandered a two-goal lead in a 5-2 loss to Philadelphia, and it came against a surging Hurricanes opponent that is immediately ahead of Buffalo in the Eastern Conference standings.
Whatever it takes, McCormick said.
"It's not something you say before a game that you want to go out and fight. You just kind of go with it," he said. "First and foremost, you want to help the team any way you can. If it's a goal, assist or a fight, it's something you've got to be able to bring."
Goalie Ryan Miller was only disappointed that McCormick failed to get an assist, which would have given the forward what's called a "Gordie Howe hat-trick" (goal, fight and assist).
"Yeah, it would've been nice to see that," Miller said. "Whether he's hitting or making a play, or getting the puck to the net, and lately he's been scoring, it's great to see."
Drew Stafford and Nathan Gerbe also scored to help Buffalo improve to 5-1-1 in its past seven. Thomas Vanek had two assists and Miller made 27 saves in cooling a Hurricanes offense that had 15 goals in its previous three games.
The 10th-place Sabres now have 43 points, inching to within five of the ninth-place Hurricanes, who remain three back of eighth-place Atlanta.
"It was one of those nights where we didn't have enough in the tank to create enough offense and get the job done," Hurricanes captain Eric Staal said. "A couple of mistakes and we weren't able to get it done."
McCormick proved to be the difference in a game the Sabres never trailed.
He first charged the crowd midway though the first period when he got into a fight with Troy Bodie.
Then, after Gerbe and Ruutu traded goals, McCormick put the Sabres ahead for good 11:49 into the second period when he parked himself in front to screen goalie Cam Ward, who had difficulty handling Jordan Leopold's shot from the left point. McCormick then pounced on the rebound and flipped it just inside the right post.
McCormick's coup de grace came 2:49 into the third period when he was cross-checked at the side of the Carolina net by defenseman Joni Pitkanen.
The Sabres capitalized 37 seconds into the power play, when Vanek set up Stafford in the slot for a snap shot that beat Ward over his right shoulder putting Buffalo ahead 3-1.
Coach Lindy Ruff was so impressed that he had enough confidence in McCormick to have him play the final 32 seconds to help preserve the one-goal lead after Skinner scored.
"He's done everything we've asked and probably more," Ruff said. "When it comes to putting goals on the board and getting into the fight, it gave us energy at the time. He goes out and he goes after it."
The goal was McCormick's second in as many games, and gave him a career-best 13 points on the season.
Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice hoped the loss was a mere bump in the road for a team that's still 10-4-3 in its past 17.
"We've been on a real good streak. We've played some good hockey," Maurice said. "It was a road game. We're happy to leave it here."
Staal had an assist on Ruutu's goal to extend his point streak to seven games in which he has seven points (three goals, four assists).
NOTES: Hurricanes C Ryan Carter returned after missing three games with an upper body injury. Carter's return left Sergei Samsonov as a healthy scratch... Sabres captain D Craig Rivet was a healthy scratch for the first time since playing nine straight. ... Sabres G Miller made his 20th consecutive start. Miller hasn't had a night off since Nov. 24, when he missed his second straight game with a groin injury. ... Hurricanes G Ward appeared in his 308th game, one short of matching Arturs Irbe for most by a goaltender since the team relocated to Carolina in 1997.