The post-Cam Ward era officially got underway last night in Raleigh, as the Carolina Hurricanes took to their home ice to take on the Sabres for the third and final time of the season. The Sabres entered the game somewhat hot, and were 3-0-1 over their last four entering the contest. The Hurricanes, riding a three-game winning streak, just lost Ward to a knee sprain against Florida. With backup goaltender Dan Ellis still feeling the effects from the flu, starting Charlotte Checkers’ goaltender Justin Peters was called up and immediately thrown into the fire. Peters played a fantastic game and was rewarded with a good team effort that resulted in a 4-3 win for the Canes.
Canes forward Jiri Tlusty kept his torrid pace up, as he scored on a nice three-way passing play from linemates Eric Staal and Alex Semin just a minute and a half into the game. The Hurricanes controlled play for much of the opening frame, and were rewarded with a 1-0 lead heading into the first intermission.
The Canes finally saw a breakthrough on their power play in the second period, as Joe Corvo took a shot from the point that was deflected by goaltender Ryan Miller to give the Canes a 2-0 lead. The highlight came at the end of the second, as Buffalo’s leading scorer Thomas Vanek found the puck on his backhand with a gaping, empty net in front of him. Peters slid over with this stick and plucked the puck off the goal line just before it crossed to preserve the 2-0 lead for the Canes.
The third period was wide open compared to the first two. Cody Hodgson scored a goal for the Sabres just 25 seconds into the frame to cut the Hurricanes’ lead in half. With a little spark, the Sabres saw an opening in the game. The Canes slammed the door on that opening 50 seconds later as Eric Staal centered a pass to Jussi Jokinen, who put the puck home for a 3-1 lead. With just over five minutes left in the game, TJ Brennan scored just as a two-man advantage expired for Buffalo to once again cut the lead to one, but once again the Hurricanes had an immediate answer in the form of a nasty wrist shot from Semin. With time winding down, Hodgson walked through the Canes’ defense to score a pretty shorthanded goal, but the time wasn’t on Buffalo’s side as the Canes escaped with the 4-3 win.
Peters made 37 saves on the night, and his job was made easier by what is quickly becoming one of the most dangerous lines in the NHL in Semin, Staal, and Tlusty. Semin added two assists to his goal and Tlusty’s 11 goals trails only Staal’s 12 on the team.
The Canes have opened up a six-point division lead over Winnipeg and look to continue their winning streak at home against the East-leading Canadiens. This game will be a tough test, as the Hurricanes mailed in a stinker in Montreal just 10 days ago and were shut out 3-0 by the Habs.