It took one punch Saturday for Micheal Ferland of the Carolina Hurricanes to drop Casey Nelson of the Buffalo Sabres.
The gloves fell, Ferland threw a right, Nelson went down and Ferland ended up on top.
The Canes landed a few of their own in a 4-2 win over the Sabres at PNC Arena, in a game Carolina needed to win, in the first of five straight at home. Lucas Wallmark scored in the first period, then Andrei Svechnikov and Justin Williams in the second.
Capping it off: Jordan Staal’s third-period goal, on a wicked backhander, for his 500th career NHL point. That finished off the fading Sabres.
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“It’s a nice round number and you’re always proud of what you’ve accomplished, but my mind is really not on that right now,” Staal said of the milestone. “It’s obviously on what’s going on this year. It’s on finding ways to win games and contributing to those wins.”
With goalie Curtis McElhinney sharp most of the night in net, bouncing back from the 8-1 debacle against Winnipeg, the Canes (39-25-7) moved to 85 points and maintained their wild-card playoff position in the Eastern Conference. They also moved within two points of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who hold third place in the Metropolitan Division but were beaten 5-1 Saturday by the St. Louis Blues.
A night after being stymied by Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, putting 46 shots on goal but leaving with a 3-0 loss, the Canes had a slow start against the Sabres. Making things worse early was seeing Jeff Skinner give the Sabres a 1-0 lead.
Skinner had not scored in 13 games and the former Canes winger had been stuck on 36 goals. But he beat McElhinney by throwing the puck at the net from the goal line extended, the puck hitting off McElhinney’s stick and through his pads.
Skinner nearly made it 2-0 in the first, finding the post with a shot, before the Canes finally found their legs, found their game and Wallmark found the net.
Jordan Martinook took a cross-ice pass from defenseman Brett Pesce and fired a shot from the right circle. The puck trickled through and behind goalie Linus Ullmark, with Wallmark quickly swooping in, diving and knocking it in for his ninth of the season.
“I think it gave us a re-set,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “We were on our heels there at the start and they were flying. It just kind of settled us down.”
Svechnikov gave the Canes the lead early in the second period off a Teuvo Teravainen pass, the 18th of the season for the rookie forward. Svechnikov also made his presence felt later in the period, crunching defenseman Rasmus Dahlin along the boards -- the No. 2 pick of the 2018 NHL draft putting a hit on the No. 1 overall pick.
That was nothing compared to Ferland’s blow. It was all over quickly -- Ferland picked up his sixth fighting major of the season -- but had Canes fans in the crowd of 15,171 roaring.
McElhnney (18-8-2) was tested a few times in the second, forced to make some tough stops against Alexander Nylander and Evan Rodrigues.
Williams’ goal, his 21st, came after some extended zone time and crisp passing by the Canes. Williams ripped a tight-angle shot from the left side, the puck again squeezing past Ullmark at the shortside post.
Staal’s goal made it 4-1 before a late goal by Zemgus Girgensons for the Sabres (30-32-9), who had center Jack Eichel back in the lineup after a two-game suspension.
McElhinney was making his first start since the loss to Winnipeg on March 8, when he was left all but defenseless in that game.
“The first goal goes in and I think you start having some thoughts,” McElhinney said. “Obviously any time you give up eight it’s a very humbling experience at this level, so it was nice to have the guys bounce back right away.”
The Sabres (30-32-9) had an aggressive forecheck Saturday, forcing the Canes to make plays in their zone. The Canes’ D had to be active, and Pesce has one of his better games.
The Canes will have an off-day Sunday, then gear up for games against the Pens on Tuesday and then Tampa Bay, the NHL’s best team, on Thursday.
“It’s never been easy and it’s not going to be easy,” Brind’Amour said. “We’ve got to keep forging ahead.”