RALEIGH — Jamie McBain was squirming a little, sweating it out.
With a little more than 10 minutes left in regulation Thursday, the Carolina Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres were locked up in a tense 2-2 game at the RBC Center. McBain had been sent to the penalty box on a holding call, feeling a bit lonely and helpless.
"That's the worst seat in the house when you've taken a penalty that late in a game," Canes coach Paul Maurice said.
But the Hurricanes killed off the McBain penalty, then a tripping penalty on Eric Staal with 3:39 left in the third. And 26 seconds into overtime, it would be McBain and Staal who helped lift the Canes to a 3-2 victory, McBain unleashing a shot from the point for the goal as Staal screened Sabres goalie Ryan Miller.
Just like that, the Canes (31-25-9) had a big victory and the RBC Center was rumbling. The Hurricanes not only built their cushion over the Sabres (30-25-8) to three points in the NHL's Eastern Conference, but moved past the New York Rangers into seventh place with 71 points.
"I was feeling pretty bad about that penalty," said McBain, who also assisted on the Canes' first goal. "Obviously these guys did a great job killing it for me, and I have to give them the pat on the back for that.
"But it's just the way the game goes. You take a penalty like that and your guys kill it for you and momentum swings a bit. When you go into overtime anything can happen, and one shot can end it."
McBain's shot was the only one in overtime. The defenseman's fifth goal of the season was his first winner of the season, and what a time to get it.
"That goal is something that's going to stay with me forever," McBain said, smiling,
Maurice said before the game that it was the "closest thing you can get to a playoff game in March." The Sabres were in the second game of a franchise-record seven-game road trip but was one of the NHL's best road teams, winning seven of their last eight.
Buffalo, which got goals from defenseman Steve Montador and newly acquired forward Brad Boyes, have two games in hand on the Canes. The Sabres, 15-18-4 on Jan. 1 but surging since, would have caught Carolina with a regulation victory.
"You want as many points as you can get," Montador said. "But obviously we gave the wrong team two points."
The Hurricanes twice battled from behind on goals by Jiri Tlusty and Chad LaRose. After a scoreless first period, Montador blasted a long shot past Canes goalie Cam Ward at 4:35 of the second.
Carolina quickly countered. Brandon Sutter snatched the puck out of the air near the Sabres goal, dropped it and put a shot on net. McBain got a piece and Tlusty finished.
Boyes' goal, his second since being dealt to the Sabres from the St. Louis Blues, gave Buffalo a 2-1 lead at 10:12 of the second, but again the Canes countered. Miller attempted to clear the puck along the boards, but Jeff Skinner cut it off, then whipped a no-look centering pass to LaRose in front at 11:58.
The Hurricanes then killed off the penalties in the third. The Sabres were 0-for-5 on the power play, and Maurice credited the gritty work of Sutter, Erik Cole, defenseman Bryan Allen and others.
Allen, a big man at 6-5 and 226 pounds, was playing his second game for the Canes after being picked up Monday in a trade with the Florida Panthers for winger Sergei Samsonov.
"I think you saw the real value of Bryan Allen on our penalty kill tonight," Maurice said. "He was big and strong and blocks out and lets the goalie see the puck."
Ward, making his 24th consecutive start, stopped 27 of 29 shots in besting Miller, who had 21 saves.
"It's a big win against a very difficult team," Ward said. "It was once again a playoff-style atmosphere and so was the game.
"They're a very good hockey team and it's going to be a battle right to the last game, I would assume."
The Canes, who play in Chicago tonight against the Blackhawks, and Sabres still have two games left in the season series. Both figure to be critical.
"I thought we played great," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We guarded most of the time in the offensive zone. We made some great plays. We got to pucks before them, we created some opportunities.
"We didn't finish on some great opportunities. You don't finish on a few of those, you're setting yourself up for a loss."
Giving McBain and Staal a second chance.
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