Buffalo Sabres captain Jason Pominville didn’t know how to react, because he wasn’t initially sure whether his one-timer from the left circle 56 seconds into overtime actually went in.
”I didn’t see it,” Pominville said. ”I just blanked out.”
Don’t look now, but here come the Sabres after Pominville secured a 3-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday night.
Regarded as one of the NHL’s biggest flops a mere six weeks ago, the Sabres (31-28-8) are on a 12-4-3 roll that’s allowed them to go from 14th place in the Eastern Conference standings into a tie with Washington for ninth – two points behind Winnipeg for the eighth and final playoff spot.
”It’s huge. We’re making steps,” said Pominville, who added an assist. ”We’re playing better hockey. We’ve dug ourselves in a big hole that isn’t easy to get ourselves out of. But we believe.”
Pominville’s goal came with 10 seconds left in Carolina defenseman Bryan Allen’s hooking penalty. Parked atop the left circle, Pominville took a pass from Christian Ehrhoff and blasted it inside the far post. Goalie Cam Ward appeared to be screened by defenseman Jay Harrison.
Thomas Vanek had a goal and assist, and Tyler Myers also scored for Buffalo, which bounced back from a 3-1 loss at Winnipeg on Monday night.
The Sabres are 7-1-2 in their past 10 games in a run that’s reminiscent of a year ago, when they closed the season 16-4-4 to earn a playoff spot on the final weekend.
”It’s nice to have a chance at it,” said Ryan Miller, who stopped 22 shots. ”We just have to be excited for this opportunity. There’s a lot of hockey left to be played.”
Jaroslav Spacek and Chad LaRose scored for the Hurricanes, who ran out of steam in being outshot 25-17 in the first two periods, and 42-24 overall.
Time is running out for the Hurricanes (25-27-15), who moved into a tie for 13th with the New York Islanders. Carolina sits seven points back of Winnipeg with 15 games left.
”Our guys, you can tell by the way we’re playing, we believe we can battle every night and keep picking up points,” coach Kirk Muller said. ”We’re scratching and clawing for every point.”
The trouble is, the Hurricanes continue to have difficulty winning on the road, where they’re 8-14-9. Coming off a 4-3 overtime win at Washington a day earlier, the Hurricanes failed to win consecutive road games for the first time since October.
And they continue to struggle in games that go past regulation. Carolina dropped to 3-9 in overtime games, and is 0-6 in shootouts this season.
Lack of discipline cost the Hurricanes, who gave up two power play goals on seven chances.
”Those penalties, we’ve got to be a little more smarter about that,” Spacek said. ”We didn’t play a patient game in the end. A couple of penalties in the third period and it probably cost us the game.”
Carolina’s power-power play lacked finish, too, failing to convert on three opportunities. And that included not getting a shot on goal while enjoying a two-man advantage spanning 1:21 in the third period.
Down 1-0 after Spacek opened the scoring 2:47 into the game, the Sabres carried much of the play in the second period. Buffalo scored twice in the first 1:02.
Myers tied it 22 seconds into the period when he blasted a shot from the right circle and the rebound caromed in off Carolina defenseman Justin Faulk.
Vanek scored 40 seconds later on a power play. Ward stopped Ehrhoff’s point shot, but couldn’t control the rebound. Parked in front, Vanek’s initial backhander was stopped before he dug out the loose puck, turned toward the net and swept it in the open right side.
LaRose tied it 5:11 into the second period, converting Jeff Skinner’s centering pass.
”This is our playoffs,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. ”We’ve put ourselves on a nice run, but it’s one game at a time and being ready to pick up the two points and move on to the next game.”
Notes: Muller said C Tuomo Ruutu is expected to return at some point next week. Ruutu missed his 10th straight game with an upper-body injury. … Hurricanes C Eric Staal had his 12-game points streak snapped. The streak was the team’s longest since it moved to Carolina in 1997. … Sabres rookie C Cody Hodgson and D Alexander Sulzer played their first games in Buffalo since being acquired in a trade that sent Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani to Vancouver on Feb. 27. … Sabres D Andrej Sekera did not play because of the flu.