BUFFALO, N.Y. — It's that time of the season for the Carolina Hurricanes.
Win. Or else.
To reach the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Hurricanes need wins. Desperately.
The Canes got a big one Tuesday. Brandon Sutter's goal late in the first period gave the Canes the lead, and goaltender Cam Ward made it stand up with 40 saves for a 1-0 victory at HSBC Arena, breaking the Canes' four-game losing streak.
The shutout was Ward's third of the season and the 15th of his career.
"We feel sometimes in Carolina we don't get seen as much as some other teams," Canes coach Paul Maurice said. "We feel we arguably have one of the best goaltenders in the world. He carries the load for us. The more work he gets, the better he seems to be."
The Hurricanes (32-28-10) went into the game in ninth place in the NHL's Eastern Conference, trailing the New York Rangers and the Buffalo Sabres by four points. Maurice said it had "huge implications."
It was a tense duel. A little chippy at times, but mostly tough, physical, hustling play by both teams and outstanding goaltending at both ends by Ward of the Canes and the Sabres' Ryan Miller.
Sutter's goal came on a rebound in the final minute of the first. The lanky center had not scored in 16 games, but he got a big one.
After Derek Joslin's shot was blocked, Sutter grabbed the puck at the rim of the left circle and slapped a backhander past Miller. Just 42.3 seconds were left in the period, and Sabres fans groaned loudly.
"I thought our line did a good job tonight, at both ends," Sutter said of Tlusty and LaRose. "On the goal, we battled in there, one came out and I jumped on it."
The Canes were outshot 22-13 in the first period, and the Sabres had a 32-22 edge after two. Buffalo nearly broke through in the last 20 seconds of the second when Thomas Vanek skated in on Ward with a nifty move but was wide with his attempt.
"It's not an easy building to play in, and they're a tough team," Ward said. "We knew they'd come firing the puck in the first period, and to weather the storm and come away with a 1-0 lead after that first period was a big boost for us."
Miller then made a big stop 20 seconds into the third. Skinner, after being decked by Vanek, popped up to rifle a shot from the slot that Miller stopped.
Next, it was Ward's turn. The Canes picked up two penalties in the first six minutes of the third - the first for too many men on the ice, then an Erik Cole interference penalty - but Ward made saves on shots by Tyler Ennis and Jason Pominville.
The Canes' power play continued to be a perplexing problem. Carolina had two power plays in the first period, and a third in the second period after taking the 1-0 lead, then another two power plays in the third - the last with 3:41 left.
All came up empty, and the empties keep piling up. The Canes were 0-for-9 on the power play in a 3-2 loss Saturday to the Columbus Blue Jackets and entered Tuesday's game 0-for-21 in their previous five games.
Cole had a chance to give the Canes a 2-0 lead at even strength with eight minutes left in regulation. Skating in alone on Miller, he went eye-to-eye with the goalie but couldn't beat him.
Some offensive pressure by the Sabres resulted in a cross-checking penalty against Eric Staal in the final seconds of the first period.
The Sabres opened the second period with two minutes of power-play time and fresh ice, but the Canes killed off the penalty.
Things turned a little chippy in the second. Sabres fans booed when the Canes' Derek Joslin hit Nathan Gerbe in the head area, without a penalty. Moments later, the Canes' Joni Pitkanen and Gerbe tangled, then went to the penalty box.
And the Canes' Jeff Skinner later was popped in the neck without a penalty being called.
Skinner, active in the offensive zone, was moved to Staal's line during the game opposite winger Tuomo Ruutu as Maurice tweaked the lines, moving Cory Stillman to Jussi Jokinen's line.
Forward Troy Bodie was the Canes' healthy scratch as Drayson Bowman and Jerome Samson started on the wings on the fourth line centered by Pat Dwyer.
"We had to find a way to win this one. To come in here and win 1-0, on the road, against a team we're chasing, this was a big confidence-booster for us," Sutter said. "I think now we're ready to move on."
The Hurricanes have no time to reflect on Tuesday's game. They host the Toronto Maple Leafs today at 7 p.m. at the RBC Center.
It's that time of the season.
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