Hurricanes strike fast again, beat Sabres 4-2

Carolina goes into the Christmas break with wins in five of six

Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho celebrates his first period goal against the Buffalo Sabres at PNC Arena. (James Guillory / USA TODAY Sports)

RALEIGH — One way to keep your goalie happy is to score early. The Carolina Hurricanes did that Thursday in Nashville and were back at it again Saturday at PNC Arena.

Sebastian Aho scored 33 seconds into the game, Cam Ward made 20 saves, Justin Faulk added two goals and the Hurricanes never trailed, skating to a 4-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres to head into the Christmas break with five wins in their last six games.

“Hopefully we’ve bent enough in the past, right, that we don’t have to bend much anymore,” Peters said of Carolina closing out the game without drama. “We scored early and we tried to score late.”

The early goal came when a shot by Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce bounced into the slot and Aho collected it, wheeled around and beat Sabres goalie Chad Johnson just 33 seconds into the game to give Carolina another fast start. It was Aho’s eighth of the season and snapped a seven-game goal drought.

Carolina started the second fast as well. With Evander Kane and Johan Larsson in the penalty box, the Hurricanes got their first 5-on-3 goal of the season. Elias Lindholm, positioned below the left faceoff dot, fired the puck at the goal mouth and it deflected off Jordan Staal’s skate and in to make it 2-0 at 1:53 of the second.

Defenseman Nathan Beaulieu got his first goal of the year at 2:44 to cut the Hurricanes lead in half, but Carolina answered less than two minutes later when another player snapped a long goal-scoring drought.

Faulk led a 2-on-1 rush up the ice, working a give-and-go with Aho that Faulk finished for his first goal since Oct. 29 — ending his 24 games without a tally.

Then on a 4-on-2 rush — triggered by a bad Buffalo line change — Faulk scored again, firing a wrist shot that found the blocker side corner on Johnson for his second goal of the period — and just third on the season.

“I wasn’t really doubting myself too much, I guess,” Faulk said. “I know I can still score goals and can generate, but just have to capitalize sometimes.”

Meanwhile, Ward was continuing to make his case to seize the No. 1 job from newcomer Scott Darling.

“I’m just enjoying it,” Ward said. “You have a new-found appreciation for the game when you see you’re maybe not playing as much. You try to take advantage of the opportunities that you’re given.”

Ward has, going 7-0-1 in his last seven decisions — he was not the goalie of record Nov. 24 against Toronto, but allowed four goals on 16 shots — and 8-2-1 overall.

“He’s been good and deserves to play,” Peters said.

The win gave Carolina (16-12-7) two more points in the traffic jam that is the Eastern Conference standings. The Hurricanes now sit three points behind both current wild card teams (the Rangers and Islanders) with one game in hand, and are tied with the two-time defending champion Penguins at 39 points but have played two fewer games than Pittsburgh.

Notes: Zemgus Girgensons had the other goal for Buffalo, just his second of the season. … The Sabres were without Ryan O’Reilly, who returned home in time to witness the birth of his son. … Teuvo Teravainen had a quiet three assists on the night, the second time in his career he’s done so (one goal, three assists Nov. 12, 2016, against Washington). … The Hurricanes won 45 of 60 faceoffs on the night.