RALEIGH, N.C. – The goal was deflating. No doubt about it. With a tie game, the Buffalo Sabres had a four-minute power play opportunity but generated little in the way of offensive opportunities.
As soon as that expired, the Carolina Hurricanes rushed down the ice and scored in transition with Joakim Nordstrom making a spin move at the blue line then beating Chad Johnson. The Hurricanes were up, 2-1, and ready to cruise to the win.
The Sabres looked at the scoreboard. There were still six minutes left in the game.
A lot can happen in six minutes.
And the team went to work.
Evander Kane and Johan Larsson scored one minute apart in the final four minutes as the Sabres completed the comeback for the 3-2 win in PNC Arena Tuesday night.
“We had a four-minute power play there and were thinking this is going to be the final nail in the coffin and we just couldn’t get any good momentum toward the net,” Sabres defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. “They made a nice play in transition and that goal could have been crippling for us but we took it as a challenge and we showed great character and fight and found a way to win.”
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Finding a way to win has been the mantra for the Sabres in the second half of the season. They now have three wins in their last five games. In the first half of the season, Buffalo went 15-22-4. In the second half, the team is now 15-12-6 with eight games left.
There are no playoffs in sight but there’s plenty of motivation to play out the season with grit rather than sail off on a whimper.
“Obviously the second half has been better than the first half was,” Kane said. “We want to take pride in these next eight games we have here and have a good feeling going into next year and finish off the season strong. Tonight was a good comeback win for us and it’s something we’re going to have to be able to do in the future.”
“We’ve eight games left here and we’re still fighting for our pride,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “We’re fighting for the opportunity to win hockey games and it was this way again tonight.”
The Sabres opened the scoring when Colaiacovo scored his first goal of the season, a shot from the blue line that deflected off a Carolina stick past goalie Cam Ward.
The Hurricanes tied it at 12:10 of the second when the Sabres defense all gravitated toward Noah Hanifin, who made a perfect cross-ice pass to an open Chris Terry, who snapped it past Johnson.
In the third, the Sabres gained the four minutes of power-play time because Brad Malone took a penalty for cross checking and enhanced it with a game misconduct. But Buffalo had few good scoring chances and Nordstrom’s goal put the Hurricanes up, 2-1.
Johnson, who improved to 7-1-0 against the Hurricanes with a 2.13 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage, made some key saves to keep it a one-goal game. That allowed the Sabres to create better offensive zone effort in the final four minutes.
Sam Reinhart’s forecheck helped him get the puck to Ryan O’Reilly behind the Hurricanes’ net. He worked the puck and floated out to Kane in front, who scored his 20th of the season at 16:11.
One minute later it was Larsson who scored after Brian Gionta helped force a turnover at the blue line. Of Larsson’s seven goals this season, four have been game-winners.
“I think we’re a little up and down and had a slow start,” Larsson said. “But we played some periods good. We’ve gotta play better for 60 minutes.”
“I think what we’re trying to build with this group is the expectation to win,” Bylsma said. “We will not be in the playoffs but we’re still trying to build our team. We talk about it before every game; we have something to prove as a team and we need to expect to go out and win hockey games. That’s what I like about the fight of our team … you keep the fight and you keep going and you get results.”