The storylines were plentiful Friday as the Carolina Hurricanes topped the Buffalo Sabres 5-2 at PNC Arena to sweep the season series.
Jeff Skinner scored twice for the Canes, in a scintillating 55 seconds, for his 23rd career multi-goal game.
Brock McGinn scored twice for his first career multi-goal game.
Speaking of career games, goalie Cam Ward played his 600th with Carolina, finishing with 36 saves in his 18th straight start.
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Victor Rask scored. Jordan Staal had two assists and another strong 200-foot game. Elias Lindholm was at his gritty best. Defenseman Brett Pesce, sick Friday morning, was in the lineup Friday night for the Canes, now 13-1-1 in their past 15 home games.
But Skinner was the catalyst this night, playing with an offensive fury early in the second period to push the Canes ahead.
“He took the game over, in my opinion,” Ward said. “He was that dominant, and he has the capability of doing that. He has been one of, if not our best, player all season long. We needed to follow in his footsteps, and I thought we did.”
On Thursday, Skinner was the hero of the day for Chase Bass, a 7-year-old from Richlands who has cancer and came to PNC Arena on a Make-A-Wish visit to play street hockey with Skinner. Bass, with Skinner as a teammate, scored nine times in the game, the goals coming rapidly.
“I tried to do my best impression of him,” Skinner said, smiling.
With the Canes trailing 1-0 after a sluggish first period, Skinner bounced off the bench on a line change to take a pass from Derek Ryan and ripped a shot under the glove of Sabres goalie Anders Nilsson at 1:48 of the second. It was a milestone for Skinner, his 300th career point, but he wasn’t through.
Moments later, taking advantage of a Sabres line change, Skinner took a stretch pass from defenseman Justin Faulk on the right wing at the Buffalo blue line, skated in to beat Nilsson with a blocker-side shot.
Two goals, 55 seconds. Just like that Skinner had his 16th and 17th of the season, and the Canes had a 2-1 lead, and he later assisted on Rask’s goal.
About four minutes later, it was 3-1. McGinn scored his first of the night on a backhander after Lindholm won a battle for the puck along the boards, wheeled and got off a shot.
The Canes had control of the game at that point against the Sabres (16-17-9), who were playing their third game in four days. But a misplay by Ward allowed the Sabres to quickly get back in it.
On a Canes’ power play, the Sabres cleared the puck down the ice, and Ward came out of net to play it as Buffalo’s Brian Gionta raced down ice. Ward took a swipe at the puck behind the net, but Gionta pounced on it and scored shorthanded.
“Just when you thought Christmas was over I was in a giving mood for another gift, to Gionta,” Ward said. “Just a big mistake on my part.
“That’s a big test mentally. You can let that change the momentum of the game, change the way you’re playing, but I didn’t let that affect me. I felt really comfortable and confident that I wasn’t going to let that mishap change the way I moved on from there.”
It showed. Ward made two stops in the third on two other Sabres shorthanded tries, first denying Evander Kane on a breakaway, then Ryan O’Reilly.
Rask gave the Canes (20-15-7) some breathing room at 4:15 of the third. Noah Hanifin missed on a shot from the slot, but Rask reeled in the puck after it caromed off the end boards and scored his 13th.
McGinn’s second of the game came after Staal carried the puck around the net and centered to McGinn in front.
“After the second, we didn’t want to take our foot off the gas,” McGinn said.
The Sabres were playing the second of a back-to-back after a 4-2 road loss Thursday to Tampa Bay, and Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said the Canes’ transition speed and the long change for Buffalo in the second period proved to be the difference.
Canes coach Bill Peters said the mental toughness of his team was telling. The Sabres’ William Carrier scored the game’s first goal, and Gionta had a big one, but the Canes answered.
“We have the ability to get back now,” Peters said. “I don’t think we did before.”
That’s another Canes storyline in itself.