RBC CENTER/RALEIGH – The Buffalo Sabres shelled Carolina goalie Justin Peters and chased him in less than two periods en route to a 5-3 win. Former Team USA darling Ryan Miller played well enough to preserve the win and Carolina played hockey reminiscent of last November, allowing several defensive breakdowns and goals in quick succession. Two late goals gave the ‘Canes a fighting chance, but Raleigh’s booming Buffalo transplant community walked away happy after more than three minutes of empty net hockey failed to produce an equalizer.
Either no one told the Buffalo and Carolina fans around the arena that this game didn’t really have any standings implications or they didn’t care. Snippets of “Let’s go, Buffalo!” and smack talk were all around. You’d think it was a playoff game with all the heated discussions, but the Sabres faithful always seemed to have the upper hand. They’re favorites to win the Northeast Conference and will probably lock down the three seed in the Eastern Conference soon.
Sabres captain Craig Rivet went to the box early and things started to get chippy. Tuomo Ruutu attempted to take on two Sabres – both taller than him – on his own, which the crowd appreciated but the referees did not. Ruutu and Chris Butler both got minors for roughing.
On a later Buffalo power play, Justin Peters dropped his stick behind the net and Jay Harrison handed him his, but the goalie couldn’t collect himself in time for Tim Connolly’s stuff chance, which put Buffalo up 1-0.
Jochen Hecht took the puck all the way from center ice and slid it easily past Peters, who was off-balance. Hecht also made it 3-0 when his wrap-around caught Peters unawares on a power play.
Toni Lydman’s long shot beat the goaltender midway through the second and that was the end of Peters’ night. Manny Legace, who was injured in Carolina’s 3-2 overtime win over Pittsburgh Friday, took his place in net.
Something about having Legace in net obviously calmed the Hurricanes because they scored seconds later. Brett Carson unleashed a bouncing shot from the point, which Sergei Samsonov tipped past Ryan Miller.
Not to be deterred, Tim Kennedy restored the four-goal lead a little over two minutes later with a shot that barely dribbled past Legace. Brian Pothier saw it happening, but couldn’t get there quite quick enough to stop the puck from going over the line. Where’s Glen Wesley when you need him?
Brandon Sutter salvaged some pride for his team early in the third period. Ray Whitney danced around the net and gave Miller something to think about while Sutter lined up his odd-angle shot, his 18th marker of the season.
Most of the crowd peaced out after the second period. They weren’t there to witness Eric Staal blast a shot past Miller through traffic during a high-sticking double minor to Adam Mair and make the score 5-3. This gave Maurice the goalie-pulling go-ahead, but the Hurricanes never got back into the game.
“This was a really good team, and we out-shot them,” Zach Boychuk said. “We just couldn’t score.”
Tampa Bay is up next on Tuesday, then another Thursday night bout with the Washington Capitals. Just 10 games left in the regular series and then this head-scratcher of a season will finally be put to rest.