The Carolina Hurricanes’ problems on the road this season have had the team chasing a playoff spot from the start.
And with a loaded Metropolitan Division, the chase will be a tough one.
But the Canes were very efficient Thursday against the Buffalo Sabres. They led 2-0 after the first, spent eight minutes in the second period on the power play and held off the Sabres in the third for a 3-1 victory at KeyBank Center.
Carolina opened the season with six straight road games – a scheduling hardship created by the World Cup of Hockey and the annual N.C. State Fair dates – and had 18 of the first 28 away from home. The Canes went 1-3-2 in the first six and were 4-8-6 in the first 18.
The flip side has been great play of late at home. The Canes are 8-0-1 in their past nine home games heading into Friday’s game against the Boston Bruins at PNC Arena.
The Canes (14-11-7) were scheduled to play another, but the Monday game against the Detroit Red Wings was postponed because of a cooling-system malfunction that affected the PNC Arena ice conditions. But the Canes looked refreshed and ready to play Thursday as they faced the Sabres for the second time in six days.
“I thought a lot of guys had some jump,” center Jordan Staal said. “Everyone in the lineup was skating really well.”
Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk scored in the first and the Canes could have had more. Staal had three good shots off the rush and there were other opportunities.
Canes coach Bill Peters said he would have liked to have seen better execution and stronger sense of urgency in the first.
“We had some looks … if those go in, it’s different,” he said. “It’s not a one-goal game coming down the stretch and us on the P.K. That’s a dangerous situation.”
Trailing 2-0 after two, the Sabres made a push in the third. Johan Larsson scored and Buffalo had a power play with 6:56 left in regulation when Faulk was called for hooking. But the Canes’ penalty killers, who lead the NHL, killed off the penalty as goalie Cam Ward made a sharp stop on a Jack Eichel shot.
“We came hard in the third but it was too little, too late at that point,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said.
Sebastian Aho’s empty net goal sealed the Canes’ fifth road win of the season and left them seven points out of playoff position in the Eastern Conference. The Washington Capitals, with 42 points, hold the last wild-card spot and have a game in hand on the Canes.
Ward has played in 26 games in what is becoming a workhorse season. He had 22 saves Thursday and is expected to start again Friday against the Bruins (18-14-3), who are 10-5-3 on the road after a 3-1 win Thursday over the Florida Panthers.
“If we can get another home win here, our record, with all these road games we’ve played will be not where we want it to be because we have some team in our division playing really good, but if we can get a win we’d feel good about 15-11-7,” defenseman Ron Hainsey said.