The Buffalo Sabres have become persistent glancers at the out-of-town scoreboard because of their nonplayoff position. They knew the only numbers worth watching Thursday night were in town, right above them on the big screen at center ice.
They liked what they saw.
The 10th-place Sabres beat ninth-place Carolina, 3-2, and in the process inched two points closer to their Eastern Conference rival. The Sabres moved to 43 points, five behind the Hurricanes and eight back of Atlanta, which holds the eighth spot.
It's a long, long way until the playoffs -- Buffalo still has 39 games on the regular-season schedule -- but the Sabres won't get there without beating the teams ahead of them. They were pleased to do so in HSBC Arena.
"We know what we have to do overall, so you set the goal for the night," Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller said. "We had a team in front of us, and I thought we played a really good game."
The victory continued a winning run by the Sabres, who are 5-1-1 in their past seven games. The win also slowed the surging Hurricanes, who had won three straight and entered on an eight-game unbeaten streak (6-0-2).
"It was a really good effort as a group," Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers said. "It was definitely a good win for us, especially the way they're going. It was a good test. We know that we're a team that can make a push here in the playoffs, so we just have to make sure we do it."
The Sabres got go-ahead goals by Nathan Gerbe and Cody McCormick, and Drew Stafford's third-period tally gave them enough room to withstand a final-minute, desperation goal by Carolina. Buffalo's defense was more impressive than its offense, as the Sabres allowed little against a team that scored 15 goals in its previous three games.
"It was frustrating for some of their big boys to get through on the rush like they're known for," said Miller, who had a quiet night with 27 saves. "We play like that against those really strong offensive teams, and we have an opportunity to win every night."
The Sabres opened the scoring on Gerbe's second goal of the season. The oft-scratched left winger earned a second straight game after an impressive return the lineup Tuesday, and he made the most of it with 5:22 left in the first period. He has points in his last three games.
The Hurricanes tied the game on the power play early in the second, much to the dismay of Lindy Ruff. The Sabres coach shouted and gestured at the referees immediately following Myers' goaltender interference call, and Ruff amped up his dispute after the Canes' Tuomo Ruutu scored.
"I think that's the first call this year I didn't like," Ruff jokingly said afterward. "I wasn't thrilled. I thought it was a good offensive play. He was pushed. I actually thought he tried his best to jump out of the way of the goaltender, so I wasn't happy."
He was a short time later. The Sabres finished the period with a one-goal lead, courtesy of McCormick's hot streak. The right winger scored for the second straight game with 8:11 left to re-establish the Sabres' slim advantage.
The line of Paul Gaustad, Gerbe and McCormick combined for two goals and three points while keeping Carolina center Eric Staal quiet.
"They had a model game for us," Ruff said. "They scored a big goal and I thought defensively did a real nice job against that line."
Stafford created breathing room early in the third. He streaked into the Carolina zone alongside Vanek on the power play and buried the winger's cross-ice pass with 3:26 off the clock.
"Anytime you can keep pushing and get that two-goal lead it's huge because you never know what's going to happen down the stretch," Vanek said. "It turned out to be the winner for us."
Slap Shots: Sabres move two points closer to ninth-place Hurricanes with fifth victory in seven games. Gerbe, McCormick continue hot week with go-ahead goals. Stafford scores for 15th time in 28 games.
Fast Fact: The Sabres have scored first in their past four games and 18 of their 43 this season.
Next: New York Islanders, 7 p.m. Saturday in Nassau Coliseum.