RALEIGH — There's something about the Buffalo Sabres that brings out the best in the Carolina Hurricanes.
"When you play that team, there's just a little more energy in our building, more excitement," Canes captain Eric Staal said Friday.
Seasons come and go but most games between the two seem to be tough, gritty and intense, regardless of the records or standings. Kirk Muller hadn't been a part of it since being named the Canes coach, but he has now.
The Hurricanes and Sabres went at it again at the RBC Center, went at it hard and the Canes surged in the third period to claw out a 4-2 victory.
Chad LaRose's goal with 11 minutes, 50 seconds left in regulation proved to be the winner, as Brandon Sutter added a late empty-netter. LaRose's score came in four-on-four play, and it came about two minutes after the Sabres had tied it 2-2 on a goal credited to Jason Pominville that was more Canes defenseman Jamie McBain knocking the puck into his own net.
"I thought overall, 60 minutes, it was probably one of our better games in not having a lapse," Muller said. "We've been preaching the last couple of games about our competitive level and winning one-on-one battles. I thought that was the part of the game that I liked the most about our team.
"Everyone felt good about their game, I think. We didn't have any passengers."
Like many Canes-Sabres games, it was punch, counter-punch. The Hurricanes (14-21-7) took a 1-0 lead in the second period on Justin Faulk's power-play goal, only to have the Sabres' Thomas Vanek score 21 seconds later for a 1-1 tie.
Early in the third, Staal pushed the Canes ahead 2-1, positioning himself to the left of Sabres goalie Ryan Miller to knock in a hard carom off the end boards. But Pominville's goal five minutes later - McBain trying to make a pass in front of the Carolina net while being hounded by Pominville and the puck getting past goalie Cam Ward - tied it again.
"But I like the way we responded," Muller said. "It could have deflated us but we stayed with it."
The Canes have been deflated often this season, losing leads in the third period and giving away points
At 7:50 of the third, the Sabres' Nathan Gerbe was called for holding and the Canes' Jussi Jokinen for roughing. It was four-on-four and LaRose soon was off on a two-on-one rush with Sutter.
LaRose kept the puck, using Sutter as a decoy and freezing defenseman Robyn Regehr, and ripped a shot past Miller for his 11th goal of the season.
LaRose had a late goal Tuesday against the Isles, but the Canes couldn't hold on. The Sabres (18-18-4) had a late power play after Faulk was called for cross-checking but couldn't convert as Ward twice stopped Drew Stafford shots.
Muller went with a new line of Staal, Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu against the Sabres and they combined for five points. Staal closed with a goal and two assists and has eight points in the past four games, and he was a strong 19-8 on faceoffs against the Sabres.
"As he goes, we go," LaRose said of Staal.
Ward and Miller matched stops in an exciting but scoreless first period. Both finished with 31 saves in the game, several high quality.
The Hurricanes will be on the road tonight, facing the Nashville Predators.