The Sabres headed back to Buffalo on Sunday night with a lot to talk about. Topics of discussion could have included:
The impressive 5-3 victory over Carolina in RBC Center.
The conclusion of their successful road trip, which saw them go 3-1-1 to earn seven of a possible 10 points.
Their three-game winning streak.
The sudden emergence of a potent offense, which has 14 goals in three games and chased opposing goaltenders on back-to-back nights.
The dominance of their penalty kill and the reappearance of their power play.
The nine-point lead they hold over Ottawa and Montreal in the Northeast Division.
All of the above and more, which likely made it an enjoyable flight home with two days off in store before the Canadiens come to HSBC Arena on Wednesday.
"I think we've established that we've got it back on track, especially on the road," coach Lindy Ruff said.
The Sabres, a shaky bunch for the past one-third of the season, wanted to spend the final weeks of the year ramping up for the playoffs. The ramp has some elevation with 11 games left before the postseason.
"The last three games have been what it's supposed to look like," defenseman Toni Lydman said.
Sunday's meeting had energy and physicality from both teams. The Sabres' four-goal outburst in the second period drained much of the Hurricanes' wind.
Jochen Hecht kick-started the second-period party for the backers in Blue and Gold among the 15,311 fans. He scored twice in the opening 4:30, including a power-play tally.
Lydman, who sent Carolina starter Justin Peters to the bench, and Tim Kennedy sandwiched a goal by Carolina's Sergei Samsonov. It gave Buffalo and goalie Ryan Miller a comfortable 5-1 cushion heading into the third. They needed it as the Hurricanes scored twice with the Sabres in a defensive shell.
"We've been playing well," Hecht said. "It's been good. We stuck to our system throughout this road trip, didn't change anything and got rewarded for it."
Tim Connolly opened the scoring midway through the first, giving Buffalo power-play goals in four of the past six games. The penalty kill, meanwhile, went 5 for 6 following Saturday's 6-for-6 effort against Florida.
"We got two on the power play, and the PK was good till the end where they had a six-on-four," Hecht said. "That's what we want to focus on and build on."
The Sabres were without trade deadline-acquisition Raffi Torres (upper-body injury) for the second straight game. Ruff wouldn't divulge whether the left winger, who routinely has an ice pack strapped to his hand and wrist area, was injured before coming to Buffalo. The coach also wasn't sure if the injury will carry into the postseason.
"I don't know," Ruff said. "When our doctors see him we'll probably get a better idea, but right now he can't play."
As expected, Ruff inserted Chris Butler on the blue line in place of Andrej Sekera. The defensemen will alternate games.
"Right now I'm rotating those two because I want to keep the lefties and the righties together," Ruff said. "I just feel our puck movement is better as pairs when we don't have two lefties and two righties. If somebody struggles, then I'll probably make a decision at that time."
Right now struggles are few and far between. The Sabres, at least temporarily, have cured many of their ills. It allowed them to come home with smiles, something they had trouble with before this victorious journey. They were just 1-6-2 during the previous nine road games.
Said Lydman: "We had a tough stretch there on the road before this trip and really needed to get it going."