RALEIGH — Coming off a loss the night before in Columbus, the Carolina Hurricanes needed a bounce-back effort at home against the Buffalo Sabres.
They got it.
Lucas Wallmark, Andrei Svechnikov, Justin Williams and Jordan Staal all scored, and Curtis McElhinney made 35 saves to help the Hurricanes win 4-2 in front of 15,171 Saturday at PNC Arena.
“It was a tough game in Columbus last night,” McElhinney said of the Blue Jackets’ 3-0 win Friday. “We had a lot of good minutes, just couldn’t find a way to beat (Sergei Bobrovsky). So a nice effort tonight.”
Columbus scored twice in the first period Friday night, and it looked like Carolina might be in for a similar fate.
To no one’s surprise, former Hurricanes winger Jeff Skinner got on the board for Buffalo, and it only took him 2:18 to do it.
Skinner came around the Hurricanes net and threw that puck at McElhinney that hit the Carolina goaltender’s stick and trickled between his pads. It was Skinner’s 37th goal of the season, snapped a 13-game goal drought and was Buffalo’s first goal in nearly 200 minutes after three consecutive shutouts.
“Obviously, the first goal goes in and you start having some thoughts,” said McElhinney, who was making his first start since an 8-1 bludgeoning to Winnipeg two Fridays ago. “Any time you give up eight, it’s a very humbling experience at this level. So it was nice that the guys bounced back right away.”
It took a while for the Hurricanes to get to their game, but with 6:08 remaining in the first period they knotted up the score.
Jordan Martinook came up the right wing and fired a wrist shot at Linus Ullmark (25 saves), and the puck barely trickled through the Sabres goalie’s pads. Carolina’s Wallmark spotted it in the blue paint and swept it in to make it 1-1.
“I think it gave us a reset,” coach Rod Brind’Amour said of Wallmark’s goal. “We were on our heels there to start and they were just flying, and I think it just kind of settled us down. We actually, from then on, had a pretty good period.”
The Hurricanes got their first lead early in the second when, on a partial line change, Sebastian Aho retrieved a loose puck and got it to Teuvo Teravainen. He zipped a pass to Svechnikov at the far post, and the rookie lifted it in for his 18th goal of the season and a 2-1 lead just 67 seconds into the middle frame.
Svechnikov coupled his offensive play with some solid defensive efforts, most notably on a backcheck on Alexander Nylander that kept the Buffalo winger from getting much on a rebound attempt in the second period.
“We’re relying on him a lot,” Brind’Amour said of Svechnikov, who has been elevated to the second line of late. “He’s playing big minutes. And you can’t rely on a player if he’s not going to be responsible, and he has been. He’s still learning every day, but he’s going to be a really, really good player in this league for a long time.”
Carolina padded its lead late in the second.
After a long shift in the Buffalo end by the Wallmark line, Williams jumped over the boards and ripped a wide-angle shot toward the Buffalo net. The puck again found its way through Ullmark, this time at the short side post, to make it 3-1 at 17:09 of the second.
The Hurricanes then added style points in the closing minutes, with Staal scoring on a spinning backhander in the slot that found the top corner for the 500th point of the veteran’s career.
“He comes to play every night, and that was a huge goal, obviously,” Brind’Amour said. “He doesn’t get rewarded enough for the good play that he has, and so it was nice to see him get that one, especially on his 500th point. It’s a good one to remember.”
Zemgus Girgensons added a goal with 61 seconds remaining, but the Hurricanes’ ninth straight over the Sabres was already sealed. The news got better after the game, with the scoreboard showing regulation losses for Pittsburgh, Washington and Montreal, plus an overtime loss for Columbus in Boston.
Carolina holds the first wild-card spot with 85 points through 71 games — one more point than Columbus and four more than Montreal, who have both played 72 games. The Penguins, also with 72 games played, are two points ahead of the Hurricanes for third in the Metropolitan Division, with the Capitals (first in the Metro with 91 points in 72 games) and Islanders (89 in 71) holding the top two spots.
“The reality of it is, we’re in but we’re not in by much,” McElhinney said. “It doesn’t take much — you slip for a couple games and you’re on the outside looking in. So I think, right now, reality is we’ve gotta win some games still to get us into that position. And once we get there, we’ll go from there.”
Notes: Svechnikov’s 18 goals, all at even strength, are tied for third-most on the Hurricanes. … McElhinney and Petr Mrazek each have 18 wins on the season. … Micheal Ferland had his sixth fight of the season, one-punching Casey Nelson and opening a cut over the defenseman’s eye.