Captain Eric Staal netted not only his first goal of the season, but a hat trick to lead the Hurricanes scoring parade followed by Jeff Skinner (2 goals) and defenseman Justin Faulk,who tallied his first goal of the season.
“Our big boys came up with big games,” Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said after his team earned its first win of the season.
“We got timely goals here tonight.”
SSD line strikes first
After both teams skated to a closely contested and scoreless first period that had the Hurricanes outshooting the Sabres 7-6, Carolina came out firing on all cylinders during the second led by the line of Skinner, Jordan Staal and Zac Dalpe.
Dalpe’s hard work to pass the puck out of the corner to the right of Buffalo netminder Jhonas Enroth found Staal open at the faceoff dot.
The big center fanned on the one-time shot attempt, but it had enough touch on it to reach Skinner who got a hold of the puck at the top of the crease and placed a backhand shot over Enroth’s shoulder to score the game’s first goal.
“I guess I should keep shootin’ with it, if it goes in,” Skinner said of using the back of the blade to score goals in two consecutive games.”
For Dalpe, getting the opportunity to play with Skinner and Staal earned him his first point of the season.
“Those guys are high-caliber players for a reason,” Dalpe said.
Looking forward to hopefully continuing to play with Skinner and Staal, the young forward was ready to help when and where he could as he finished the game with two assists.
“I’m just going to try and get open and use my shot and hope good things come of it.”
Riding the wave
After Skinner’s goal, it seemed like both teams rode ebbs and flows of momentum in creating and capitalizing on their scoring opportunities.
Justin Faulk added to Carolina’s lead when he started the rush up the ice from the Carolina blue line.
The second-year defenseman skated across the Buffalo blue line with the option to pass or shoot it, and he made no mistake in letting loose a low slap shot that slid through Enroth’s legs to put the Hurricanes ahead 2-0.
Even though Buffalo was unable to convert on any of its six power play opportunities throughout the game, the Sabres scored easily enough at even strength.
Goals scored by Cory Hodgson and Jason Pominville came just over 90 seconds apart and erased Carolina’s lead with just under 10 minutes to play in the period.
Not doing any better with the man-advantage and finishing 0-4 on the night, the Hurricanes scored again as Skinner tallied his second goal of the game at the 13:56 mark, beating Enroth to his left post with a wraparound from behind the net.
Captain takes over
Without much time to celebrate Skinner’s third goal of the season, the Hurricanes' captain scored his first just nine seconds later, and pushed Carolina’s lead back up to two goals.
After winning the ensuing face off, defenseman Joni Pitkanen slid the puck across to Jamie McBain in the Carolina zone who then made a tape-to-tape pass to a curling Staal in the neutral zone.
Staal got an extra step on his defender while breaking into the Buffalo zone, maintained his momentum towards Enroth, and first moved to his forehand before finishing with a backhand shot that found the gap between the keeper’s pads.
The final touches
Trailing the Hurricanes 4-2 after two periods of play, the Sabres didn't back down for the remainder of the game.
Jason Pominville finished an impressive give-and-go with Thomas Vanek to Ward’s right, and scored his second goal of the game to reduce the Hurricanes’ lead to one goal once again, just six minutes into the third period.
Soon afterward, Staal collected his second goal of the game on a quick snap shot from the left faceoff dot that beat Enroth high to his glove side.
Pitkanen earned his second assist of the game when he pinched in along the boards and moved the puck into the corner to the right of the net before finding Staal wide open to finish the play.
With Carolina leading 5-3, both teams traded power play opportunities, keeping both Ward and Enroth busy.
Ward, who finished the game with 30 saves, came up with big stops a few minutes apart – turning away a point shot from Sabres defenseman Christian Erhoff during Buffalo’s final man-advantage opportunity, and holding on to a close-range attempt from Marcus Foligno with under five minutes to play.
Making one final attempt to cut back into the Carolina lead, Buffalo pulled Enroth in exchange for an extra attacker, but Staal got a breakout pass from Dalpe in the neutral zone and launched the puck towards the open net to secure his first hat trick and the Hurricanes’ first win of the season.
“The guys were ready to play tonight,” Staal said.
“We competed hard on pucks - Wardo made some big saves for us, Skins with some big goals early for us – those are all key factors. It was a good win for us.”