If there was a down side to the Carolina Hurricanes' 5-1 preseason victory Friday over the Buffalo Sabres, it was Chad LaRose.
Elias Lindholm had a hat trick, Nathan Gerbe produced a goal and assist and Jeff Skinner also scored for the Canes. Cam Ward was good in net, again, and so many things went right for the home team at PNC Arena.
LaRose, a former Canes forward, had not played a game at PNC Arena since April 2013. In training camp on a professional tryout, attempting to jump-start his career after sitting out last season, LaRose said before the game it would be an emotional return.
And it was. For two shifts.
Almost three and a half minutes into the game, LaRose slammed into Buffalo’s Josh Gorges behind the Sabres net. He was called for five-minute boarding major and a game misconduct, leaving the ice to cheers from Canes fans.
Canes coach Bill Peters was disappointed and a little surprised by the call, saying if there is no disciplinary action from the league LaRose would play again Sunday in the Canes’ final preseason game against the Washington Capitals.
But LaRose's penalty helped fuel the Canes' second preseason win. The Canes killed off the five minutes of power-play time, then took a 1-0 lead late in the first on Gerbe's goal off a two-on-one rush with Alexander Semin.
“It was a big momentum swing, killing five minutes early,” Gerbe said. “It gives the guys confidence.”
The Canes (2-4 preseason) played with a confident vibe the rest of the way, outshooting the Sabres 37-20 and controlling the play and pace.
Ward was aggressive in net, moving well, making 19 saves. Lindholm showed off his offensive skills, scoring on the power play, picking up his second goal on a wicked shot from the wing and finishing off the hat trick on a late empty netter that caused a few hats to fly on the ice.
“He had a great game,” Skinner said. “I thought Rask was good down the middle and opened up space.”
Peters had Lindholm and Skinner on the wings with rookie Victor Rask in the middle and again liked what he saw from the young guys -- Skinner the oldest at 22. He also liked the more understated contributions of centers Jay McClement and Riley Nash and the physical play of veteran defenseman Tim Gleason.
“Probably our best effort to date,” Peters said. “Good in a lot of different areas.”
Skinner's goal came off a crisp feed from Gerbe out of the left corner, setting up a one-timer from the slot that Sabres goalie Michal Neuvirth couldn't stop.
Semin was made an alternate captain for the game and wore an “A” on his jersey, and for a reason, Peters said.
“He's a big part of what we do,” Peters said. “He's got to be a part of that leadership group.”
Another alternate captain, Jordan Staal, his right leg in a cast, was in the locker room after the game. Staal was injured Sept. 23 after a collision with Gorges and will miss three to four months.
But this night, Staal wasn't missed on the ice. A lot went right -- other than LaRose's banishment.
“Winning is contagious,” Gerbe said. “You want to win in the preseason, too. We did the right things and it paid off.”
But it’s preseason. The lineups have been different for each goalie and Khudobin will start Sunday’s road game against the Washington Capitals in the Canes’ final exhibition.
The Canes open the regular season Friday against the New York Islanders at PNC Arena. It’s on then. That one counts.