Jamie McBain ended Thursday’s overtime game in Raleigh with a slap shot from the right circle that sent the Carolina Hurricanes to their second consecutive victory.
The Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres did what they could to ensure the east playoff race became a little muddier Thursday night. The teams rode a 2-2 tie into overtime, where McBain ended the stalemate just 26 seconds into the extra frame.
Jiri Tlusty and Chad LaRose also scored for Carolina. Steve Montador and Brad Boyes added goals for Buffalo.
The tilt had a playoff atmosphere and playoff implications. The Canes move into seventh in the East with the victory, while Buffalo stays put in ninth place. Each team has points in seven of its last ten games and sits in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference.
All four regulation goals were scored in the second period. Carolina twice came back from one goal deficits to carry the game past regulation.
Buffalo played a fine road game, controlling play for extended periods of time and outshooting Carolina 29-24. Their power play went scoreless in five opportunities, allowing the Canes to stay in the game and put things away in overtime.
The game in Raleigh was one of several to impact the playoff chase in the East. Washington, Montreal, New York Rangers, Carolina, Buffalo, Toronto and Atlanta – fifth through eleventh in the East, respectively – played on Thursday.
The East race is hardly theater compared to the airtight Western Conference, where three points separate the fourth place Chicago Blackhawks from the eleventh-place Nashville Predators (as of Thursday evening). Nonetheless, the east race has at least become interesting as opposed to a month ago, when the eight playoff spots seemed all but locked.
Carolina’s victory vaulted them into seventh, adding a three point buffer for the final playoff spot. The New York Rangers continue to lose players to injury, and subsequently continue to lose games. New York dropped a 3-1 home decision to the Minnesota Wild and fell to the conference’s last playoff spot.
Toronto won its second in as many games with a 3-2 decision over the first place Flyers. Despite the exodus of big names before the trade deadline, Toronto has gathered points in nine of ten (6-1-3) and 15 of their last 17 games overall. Toronto trails Carolina by four points and is within striking distance of Buffalo and New York, as well.
With the extra point, Buffalo finds itself within two points of the Rangers with three games in hand.
Like all contending teams, Carolina is trying to buy insurance down the stretch run. The Canes lean on even strength scoring to keep them in games – they are eighth in the NHL in goals per game (2.8).
Carolina has been less effective in special teams play. The team has the league’s 20th-ranked power play (17.0 percent). The unit was scoreless on two chances Thursday.
Perhaps most vital for Carolina’s playoff chances is the work of goaltender Cam Ward, who made his 24th consecutive start Thursday night. Ward stopped 27 of 29 shots to earn the game’s second star. The Hurricanes, 23rd in the league in goals against per game (3.0) and penalty kill percentage (80.3), need Ward to compensate for a defensive unit that has been less than stellar this year.
Carolina allows more shots per game than any other club (33.7).
In addition to Ward, the Hurricanes have a stellar home record to lean on down the stretch. The team sports an 18-10-3 home record and have gone 11-3-2 in their last 16 games at RBC Center. Ten of their remaining seventeen games will be played at home.
The playoff picture can become even murkier Friday. Carolina’s second of back-to-back games will come on the road against a Blackhawks squad which has won six straight.
The Rangers, one point behind the Hurricanes, visit Ottawa for their second in as many nights. The 12th-place New Jersey Devils – 11 points behind Carolina – host the injury ravaged Penguins at 7:00.