Sabres 3, Hurricanes 2

Cody McCormick provided the punch – both physical and offensive
– the Buffalo Sabres needed in bouncing back from a dreadful
loss.

The checking-line journeyman scored the go-ahead goal, got into
a fight and also drew a key penalty in a 3-2 win over the Carolina
Hurricanes on Thursday night. The victory came two days after the
Sabres squandered a two-goal lead in a 5-2 loss to Philadelphia,
and it came against a surging Hurricanes opponent that is
immediately ahead of Buffalo in the Eastern Conference
standings.

Whatever it takes, McCormick said.

”It’s not something you say before a game that you want to go
out and fight. You just kind of go with it,” he said. ”First and
foremost, you want to help the team any way you can. If it’s a
goal, assist or a fight, it’s something you’ve got to be able to
bring.”

Goalie Ryan Miller was only disappointed that McCormick failed
to get an assist, which would have given the forward what’s called
a ”Gordie Howe hat-trick” (goal, fight and assist).

”Yeah, it would’ve been nice to see that,” Miller said.
”Whether he’s hitting or making a play, or getting the puck to the
net, and lately he’s been scoring, it’s great to see.”

Drew Stafford and Nathan Gerbe also scored to help Buffalo
improve to 5-1-1 in its past seven. Thomas Vanek had two assists
and Miller made 27 saves in cooling a Hurricanes offense that had
15 goals in its previous three games.

Tuomo Ruutu and rookie Jeff Skinner, with 32 seconds remaining,
scored for Carolina, which had a three-game winning streak snapped
and lost in regulation for the first time in its past nine
(6-1-2).

The 10th-place Sabres now have 43 points, inching to within five
of the ninth-place Hurricanes, who remain three back of
eighth-place Atlanta.

”It was one of those nights where we didn’t have enough in the
tank to create enough offense and get the job done,” Hurricanes
captain Eric Staal said. ”A couple of mistakes and we weren’t able
to get it done.”

McCormick proved to be the difference in a game the Sabres never
trailed.

He first charged the crowd midway though the first period when
he got into a fight with Troy Bodie.

Then, after Gerbe and Ruutu traded goals, McCormick put the
Sabres ahead for good 11:49 into the second period when he parked
himself in front to screen goalie Cam Ward, who had difficulty
handling Jordan Leopold’s shot from the left point. McCormick then
pounced on the rebound and flipped it just inside the right
post.

McCormick’s coup de grace came 2:49 into the third period when
he was cross-checked at the side of the Carolina net by defenseman
Joni Pitkanen.

The Sabres capitalized 37 seconds into the power play, when
Vanek set up Stafford in the slot for a snap shot that beat Ward
over his right shoulder putting Buffalo ahead 3-1.

Coach Lindy Ruff was so impressed that he had enough confidence
in McCormick to have him play the final 32 seconds to help preserve
the one-goal lead after Skinner scored.

”He’s done everything we’ve asked and probably more,” Ruff
said. ”When it comes to putting goals on the board and getting
into the fight, it gave us energy at the time. He goes out and he
goes after it.”

The goal was McCormick’s second in as many games, and gave him a
career-best 13 points on the season.

Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice hoped the loss was a mere bump in
the road for a team that’s still 10-4-3 in its past 17.

”We’ve been on a real good streak. We’ve played some good
hockey,” Maurice said. ”It was a road game. We’re happy to leave
it here.”

Staal had an assist on Ruutu’s goal to extend his point streak
to seven games in which he has seven points (three goals, four
assists).

NOTES: Hurricanes C Ryan Carter returned after missing three
games with an upper body injury. Carter’s return left Sergei
Samsonov as a healthy scratch… Sabres captain D Craig Rivet was a
healthy scratch for the first time since playing nine straight. …
Sabres G Miller made his 20th consecutive start. Miller hasn’t had
a night off since Nov. 24, when he missed his second straight game
with a groin injury. … Hurricanes G Ward appeared in his 308th
game, one short of matching Arturs Irbe for most by a goaltender
since the team relocated to Carolina in 1997.