|BUF||0||0||0||0||(0 - 0)||3|
|CAR||0||0||0||0||(0 - 0)||4|
Playing the Buffalo Sabres is normally incentive enough for the Carolina Hurricanes. But there was a bigger carrot hanging out there even before the drop of the puck Saturday night in front of a standing-room only crowd.
With a Washington loss already in the books earlier in the day courtesy of Boston, the Canes could move seven points ahead of the Caps with less than a dozen games left in the race for the Southeast Division crown.
Clinging to a one-goal lead heading into the third period, the Canes had to go into overtime to close out the deal. But Scott Walker tipped in a shot from Eric Staal with 2:10 left in the extra period while on a 4-on-3 power play for a 4-3 victory – the team’s fourth in a row and seven in the last eight.
The victory put the Canes a season-high eight games over .500 and improved their record to 10-1-1 in the last 12 games at the RBC Center.
“It was a big day,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “We’re still in charge of what we do, but you just look at the standings and in order for it to be a good day there are three teams that had to do something and that was Carolina, Washington and Buffalo. This is the way we wanted it to work out.”
“We wanted to push that gap further, wanted to keep winning games, but at the same time we’ve got to be focused here,” added Staal. “We like the way we’re playing. We’re playing hard, we’re playing smart and we need to keep this roll going.”
A 37-29-5 record gives the Canes 79 points with 11 games left. The Caps are sitting at 72 with two games in hand, but with five less wins than Carolina, who improved to 4-0 in March.
Cam Ward’s only blunder of the first two periods came when he tried to made a play on the puck behind the net, getting a bad bounce and failing to get back to cover the short side before Derek Roy banged a shot home as Buffalo closed to 2-1 midway through the second.
But the Canes wasted little time responding as Sergei Samsonov scored his 12th in 27 games with the Canes about a minute later, pouncing on a rebound off a shot from Staal to extend the lead to 3-1.
The Canes failed several times to clear the puck late in the period and it cost them as the Sabres got a goal with 1:53 left to close within one goal heading into the third.
Buffalo then tied the score with 10 minutes left in regulation late on a power-play, and Carolina failed on power plays Nos. 6 and 7 in the final 4:30 of regulation as the game went into an extra five-minute period.
Staal, who played close to 30 minutes, drew a hooking call as he broke through the defense early in the OT to set up another man-advantage chance.
This time, near the end of the power-play, Laviolette sent on a more rested Walker and Samsonov. The move paid off as Staal floated a shot toward Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller that was deflected in by Walker.
“I wanted to get a couple of fresh bodies out there,” Laviolette said of his clutch switch. “Sergei has been hot and I figured Walker would go to the front of the net.”
A plan executed to perfection.
“You could have asked me what I did wrong on the other 10 power plays,” joked Laviolette. “They do such a good job of getting in the shot lanes, so we talked about maybe just wristing some shots, trying to get them through so we could get some action at the net.”
“I was breathing a little heavy at the end, but we needed to get one on the power play and I wanted to make sure I was on the ice for it,” Staal said.
Aucoin’s fifth of the season came with 3:25 left in the first after some hard work in the Buffalo zone by Ryan Bayda, who charged the net and forced Miller to make a save. Aucoin picked up the rebound in the slot and beat the Sabres goalie up high.
Gleason’s goal came off a faceoff following an icing by the Sabres, his initial point shot hitting a player in the circle, but the Carolina defenseman got the puck back from Patrick Eaves and beat Miller with Matt Cullen providing a screen in front.
“Bayda dogged that puck three different times and I told him when he came back to the bench,” Laviolette said. “It could have been three easy outs for them, but he never stopped moving his feet. We talked about that because they have a skilled team up front that is deep. If you give them time and space they will make things happen.”
NOTES: Four of Walker’s 10 goals have been game winners. … Staal has nine points in his last four games. … Staal’s 29:43 of ice time was a season high. … Glen Wesley was out with a sore foot, while Ray Whitney and Wade Brookbank were sidelined with leg injuries. … Samsonov has six goals in his last eight games. … Niclas Wallin had a rough night, taking a high stick to the face in the first period and a puck off his right cheek in the second, but didn’t miss a shift. … Eaves had a team-high six shots.
|Keith Aucoin (5) ASST: Ryan Bayda (2), Joe Corvo (28)|
1 - 0 CAR
|Tim Gleason (3) ASST: Patrick Eaves (9), Matt Cullen (36)|
2 - 0 CAR
|Derek Roy (27) ASST: NONE|
2 - 1 CAR
|Sergei Samsonov (12) ASST: Eric Staal (33), Dennis Seidenberg (13)|
3 - 1 CAR
|Drew Stafford (14) ASST: Dmitri Kalinin (7), Derek Roy (34)|
3 - 2 CAR
|PPG - Toni Lydman (3) ASST: Jochen Hecht (21), Maxim Afinogenov (14)|
3 - 3 Tie
|PPG - Scott Walker (10) ASST: Eric Staal (34), Joe Corvo (29)|
4 - 3 CAR
|Andrej Sekera Hooking against Matt Cullen|
|Tim Conboy Too many men/ice - bench|
|Maxim Afinogenov Tripping against Scott Walker|
|Nolan Pratt Hi-sticking against Scott Walker|
|Jaroslav Spacek Tripping against Scott Walker|
|Ryan Bayda Interference against Nathan Paetsch|
|Toni Lydman Slashing against Erik Cole|
|Bret Hedican Tripping against Maxim Afinogenov|
|Paul Gaustad Interference on goalkeeper against Cam Ward|
|Derek Roy Hi-sticking against Bret Hedican|
|Jaroslav Spacek Hooking against Eric Staal|
|SA: 35||TOI: 62:50|
|Saves: 31||EV: 23 - 26|
|PIM: 0||PP: 8 - 9|
|SV%: .886||SH: 0 - 0|
|SA: 30||TOI: 62:48|
|Saves: 27||EV: 21 - 23|
|PIM: 0||PP: 5 - 6|
|SV%: .900||SH: 1 - 1|