Tlusty, Semin help Hurricanes push past Sabres for 4-2 win

calexander@newsobserver.comMarch 13, 2014 

— It would have been easy for the Carolina Hurricanes to have gotten frustrated Thursday at PNC Arena.

For more than 50 minutes, they kept firing shots at Buffalo Sabres goalie Michal Neuvirth. For more than 50 minutes, only Jeff Skinner got a shot past him.

But the Canes kept pushing, kept attacking, kept shooting. By game’s end, Carolina had a 4-2 victory as the Hurricanes scored three third-period goals.

Drew Stafford’s score, with a little more than 11 minutes left in regulation, gave the Sabres a 2-1 lead. It was much like the Feb. 25 game in Buffalo, when the Sabres were outshot nut kept it close and then won with a final-minute goal.

But the Canes’ Alexander Semin tied the score 2-2 with a power-play goal. Semin then set up Jiri Tlusty for a shot in the slot and the go-ahead goal with six minutes, 17 seconds left in regulation.

Nathan Gerbe’s empty-net score in the final second sealed it for the Canes (29-28-9), who still believe it’s possible to claw their way back into contention for a playoff berth, even as time – and games – are running short.

The Canes had a season-high 55 shots, and Skinner’s 13 shots set a franchise record, topping Eric Staal’s 12 against Atlanta on March 28, 2008.

Cam Ward made a second straight start in net for the Canes and now has won back-to-back games for the first time since late-November. Ward didn’t get a lot of work, facing 23 shots in all and only 11 in the final two periods.

“It was a good job by everyone to stick with it and persevere through it,” said Skinner, who scored his 26th of the season in the first period. “We had a lot of quality chances and (Neuvirth) made some good stops.

“It’s tough not to get frustrated but you have to stick with it and believe it’s going to pay off. It did tonight.”

The power play has been a struggle all season for the Canes and they misfired on their first four power plays Thursday. But Semin ripped a shot from the top of the left circle, the puck glancing off the skate of Sabres defenseman Mike Weber in front and past Neuvirth.

Semin then whipped the pass to Tlusty out of the corner, and Tlusty used a screen by Jordan Staal to score his 12th goal of the season and third game-winner.

Ryan Miller was in net for the Sabres in the Feb. 25 game as the Canes began a five-game road trip after the NHL break for the Winter Olympics. Miller then was traded to St. Louis and the Sabres (19-39-8) picked up Neuvirth in a trade with the Washington Capitals on the NHL trade deadline last week.

Neuvirth, who was 4-1-1 against Carolina with the Caps, looked like a candidate for first-star honors until Semin, a former Caps teammate, beat him.

“Sometimes you can get down and frustrated but we continued to attack and knew that we would eventually break him,” Eric Staal said.

Tlusty was called for a hooking penalty in the first period on a breakaway by the Sabres’ Tyler Ennis, was awarded a penalty shot. Ennis beat Ward for his 17th goal of the season and a 1-0 lead, but Skinner soon whistled a tight-angle shot past Neuvirth for his third goal in the past four games.

Of his penalty on Ennis, Tlusty said, “I kind of got a body check and he kind of lost his balance and he lost the puck, too. The referee said he was going by himself … and he had to call it. It’s a tough one but I’m glad we pulled (out) the win.”

Ten players finished with points for the Canes, who are six points behind the Philadelphia Flyers in the fight for an Eastern Conference wild-card playoff spot.

“I was really happy with our effort and focus,” Canes coach Kirk Muller said. “The guys stayed the course tonight. We had 50-plus shots. It took it right to the end to win that game.”

Note: Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Joni Pitkanen, in a statement released by the team, said he is making progress in recovering from a broken heel bone but can’t say when he will be able to return to hockey.

Pitkanen, 30, suffered a broken left calcaneus bone on April 2, 2013, against the Washington Capitals. He missed the remainder of the 2012-13 season and was ruled out of the 2013-14 season.

“I’ve been working with Raleigh Orthopaedic throughout this season with the hope of returning to play hockey,” Pitkanen sad. “There is no timetable as of now, but I’ve been making progress with my rehab and it remains my goal to resume my professional hockey career. It’s been frustrating to be away from the ice, but I want to thank all of the people who have expressed support throughout the season.”

Pitkanen has scored 57 goals and earned 225 assists in 535 career NHL regular-season games with Philadelphia, Edmonton and Carolina.

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