After a missed five-on-three power play opportunity in the second period and a dominant yet scoreless stretch in the third period, the Hurricanes would eventually lose 2-1 on defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani’s first NHL goal in overtime. Although the Canes gained a valuable point, a regulation win would have tied them with Buffalo for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“You can’t complain about the effort or how they played,” said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice, whose team has just three games to make up two points on the New York Rangers, who finished the night in eighth, and three on the Sabres, who now sit in seventh. “We generated enough to score a bunch of goals and didn’t, but their goaltender made the saves.
“You’ve got a real feeling of disappointment after a loss like that, but not a feeling like you let one slip away because you did what you were supposed to do.”
The Sabres' goaltender, 22-year-old Jhonas Enroth, finished with a career-high 35 saves in just his 12th NHL contest while filling in for the injured Ryan Miller. He saved his best for the home stretch, making one-on-one stops on Tuomo Ruutu, Joni Pitkanen and Brandon Sutter while earlier forcing Chad LaRose to shoot wide.
“Their goalie played well,” said Sutter, who nearly iced the game in overtime on a power move that beat defenseman Tyler Myers to the outside. “He probably kept them in the game the last part for sure, so we’ve got to tip our hats to him.”
On the other end, Cam Ward also did his part in limiting the Sabres to 2 goals on 31 shots. The Sabres beat him with defenseman Chris Butler’s first goal of the season that finished a three-on-two rush in the first period and also on Gragnani’s winner – a relatively harmless-looking wrist shot from the point that seemed to deflect in off Canes defenseman Tim Gleason as he tussled with Drew Stafford in front of the net.
“I didn’t see the shot until the last second, and I think it hit either my stick or body and went in the net,” said Gleason.
“What appeared to be going wide got deflected off of something,” said Ward. “I haven’t seen the replay of it and I’m not sure what it hit, but they got a lucky break.”
The Sabres started the night as the better team, holding the Canes off the shot clock until Jamie McBain got a wrist shot on net at the 9:40 mark.
“We didn’t put the puck on the net – we tried to find some people on their way to the net, which kept our shot totals down,” said Maurice.
“In the first period we were all jacked up and maybe just a little tense,” said Ward.
The momentum shifted with Staal’s goal, which may have been intended as a centering feed for LaRose but ended up hitting something and bouncing straight up into the air and into the cage behind the otherwise-perfect Enroth.
“Probably our poorest chance went in tonight and the best ones stayed out,” said Maurice.
With the goal, Staal became just the third player in franchise history to record 500 points and first do so solely with the Hurricanes. Ron Francis and Kevin Dineen also hit the milestone after spending time with the Hartford Whalers.
Buffalo would find itself in penalty trouble in the latter half of the second, committing three penalties in just over three minutes, including a 59-second two-man advantage. Officially, the Canes didn’t record a shot on the five-on-three, although Corvo hit his first post of the night and Cory Stillman had a stuff chance between his legs that went just wide.
“I’ve got no complaints with it,” said Maurice of the two-man advantage. “You ring one off the post, you’ve got another great chance off the other side and they were looking to shot the puck. It wasn’t a matter of sitting around.”
Corvo would clang another blast off the crossbar late in the third, but the Canes finished the night 0-6 on the power play, making them 0-9 in their last two games following a stretch in which they scored five times in their previous 18 chances.
The Canes will now have to make up more ground than they would have liked in the final week of the season, which features home games against Detroit and Tampa Bay on Wednesday and Saturday, respectively, and an away contest in Atlanta on Friday.
Depending on what happens with the teams ahead of them, the Hurricanes may not have to win all three. However, they’ll approach it as though they will.
“We’ve got three games,” said Gleason. “There’s always a possibility. We’re capable of doing it and we’re playing well enough to do it.”
“It’s tough today, it’s not going to be a good day tomorrow and everybody is going to be feeling sorry for themselves, but our challenge and our job now is to deal with it tomorrow, handle it tomorrow and then the next day get back on our horse,” said Maurice.
NOTES: In the four-game season series with Buffalo, Ward allowed just 7 goals … Ruutu appeared to suffer an injury when Drayson Bowman’s shot hit him in the chest late in the second period, but he did not miss a shift … LaRose played his 402nd game with the Hurricanes, moving him past Bates Battaglia for 10th in team history since relocation … The Canes and Sabres each finished with 2-1-1 records and five points in the season series … The Canes fell to 7-12-1 in the second half of back-to-back games … Stafford’s assist on Butler’s goal was the 100th of his career.