BUFFALO, N.Y. — Rasmus Dahlin was determined in ensuring the Buffalo Sabres would stay in playoff contention for another two days at least.
The 2018 No. 1 draft pick continued punctuating what’s been his breakout fifth NHL season by scoring a goal, setting up two others and making a crucial block of a shot which led directly to Tage Thompson scoring the go-ahead goal in a 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday.
“All I can do is do my best and compete, and that’s what I did today,” said Dahlin, who joined Phil Housley as the only other Sabres defenseman to top 70 points in a single season. “I really wanted to win this game. I think that’s the simple answer.”
Housley topped 70 points three times during his career in Buffalo, including an 81-point season in 1989-90.
Casey Mittelstadt scored twice and Buffalo improved to 6-1-1 in its past eight. The win guaranteed the Sabres keeping their slim playoff chances alive through their game at the New York Rangers on Monday. A regulation loss, otherwise, would have put 10th-place Buffalo in position to be eliminated later in the day and extend its NHL-worst playoff drought for a 12th consecutive season.
Devon Levi stopped 32 shots, improving to 3-1 since signing with Buffalo after completing his junior college season at Northeastern. And the Sabres (39-32-7) matched their most victories since finishing 39-32-11 in 2011-12.
Sebastian Aho, with his Hurricanes-leading 35th goal, Seth Jarvis and Jesper Fast scored for Carolina.
Antii Raanta stopped 26 shots in losing just his third game in regulation this season, and first since a 4-1 loss to Colorado on Nov. 12. Raanta had a 15-0-2 streak snapped, which ranked as the NHL’s eighth longest since the 1996-97 season.
The Hurricanes are 3-4-1 in their past eight and began the day leading the Metropolitan Division, a point ahead of New Jersey.
Generating offense has been an issue for Carolina, which hasn’t scored four or more goals since a 5-3 win over Toronto on March 25 and been shut out four times in its previous 15 outings.
“Unfortunately we’re in a situation right now where we’re having a tough time putting it in the back of the net. Not that we didn’t have enough opportunities,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “The game flipped on, we have an empty net to tap it in and we don’t put it in, and they come right down and score. There’s your game.”
Dahlin was the difference in a game Buffalo fell behind 2-1 when Jarvis and Fast scored 22 seconds apart in the final six minutes of the first period, and trailed 3-2 after Aho scored midway through the second period.
Thompson’s go-ahead goal 6:15 into the third period on a one-timer from the slot came on the ensuing rush after Dahlin raced back to lay his stick down and block Martin Necas’ from scoring into the open left side of Buffalo’s net.
Dahlin’s craftiest play came in setting up Mittelstadt’s second goal to tie it at 3 with 1:42 left in the second period.
Accepting Owen Power’s pass from the left point, Dahlin drove into the middle by eluding Jack Drury and then cut wide to his right to avoid Paul Stastny before feathering a no-look backhand pass to Mittelstadt, who fired it into the open left side.
Mittelstadt was so wowed, he offered to have Dahlin lead the celebration line of players back to Buffalo’s bench.
“That’s all him. He should have probably gone twice for that,” Mittelstadt said. “He was pretty special tonight.”
The Hurricanes close a three-game road trip in Ottawa on Monday night.