RALEIGH, N.C. -- As the game reached the midway point of the third period Thursday, Carolina Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller felt a little tightening in his gut. His team was pushing the 50-shot mark against the Buffalo Sabres but had nothing but a tie score to show for it.
"You get nervous because we pretty much did all the stuff we wanted to do," Muller said. "When you leave a team hanging around like that, you don't want that bad break."
"Sometimes you can get down and frustrated, but we stayed with it and created a lot of opportunities," said Carolina captain Eric Staal, who assisted on Nathan Gerbe's empty-net goal. "If we continued to attack, we knew we would eventually break them."
For most of the game, Buffalo goaltender Michal Neuvirth seemed bound to spoil Carolina's plans. He made 51 saves, many of them outstanding. Carolina's Cam Ward made 21 saves for back-to-back wins for the first time since Nov. 24 and 27.
"We were pushing the pace," Tlusty said. "Michal played real well. It was hard to break him down. Fortunately, we did it late in the third, and I'm glad we got two points tonight."
After Buffalo forward Drew Stafford broke a 1-1 tie at 8:43 of the third period, Semin tied the game 2-2 on the power play at 11:48 with a shot off the skate of Buffalo defenseman Mike Weber. It was the Hurricanes' second power-play goal in the past 10 games; Carolina had converted once in its prior 38 chances.
Tlusty followed with his 12th of the season on a feed from Semin to put Carolina on top at 13:43.
"I had too many guys on the blocker side," Tlusty said. "I just saw a little space between guys on the short side and I tried high and it went in."
The Sabres scored midway through the first period on a penalty shot by Tyler Ennis. After Tlusty tied him up on a breakaway, Ennis skated in on Ward and used a high forehand for his team-leading 17th goal at 10:22.
The Hurricanes answered 2:58 later when Jeff Skinner scored from below the right circle for his team-high 26th of the season. Skinner was a constant force in the game, establishing a Carolina record with 13 shots on goal.
Like his coach, Skinner wondered whether the Hurricanes were going to be rewarded with a win, particularly after Stafford's go-ahead goal deflected off defenseman Andrei Sekera and Tlusty before going past Ward.
"Especially the way it's been going," Skinner said. "[Stafford's goal] goes off two feet and then they tap it in. But good job by all the guys sticking with it. We got a bounce there on Semin's goal too, going in off [Weber's] foot."
Prior to a 3-1 win Tuesday against the New York Rangers, the Hurricanes had lost seven of eight. Muller said he was satisfied with his team's play on many nights during that stretch, so he has insisted that his players stay the course.
"Tonight was a good example of not getting frustrated," Muller said. "We talked after the second period about getting a breather and staying focused and playing the same way. So there wasn't any frustration. The guys just kept slugging it out and waiting for that opportunity."
For the Sabres (19-39-8), the game began to unravel in the second period when they were outshot 22-4. They relied heavily on Neuvirth, who stopped a bid from Andrei Loktionov with his left pad, then gloved a wrist shot from Drayson Bowman on the rebound. Neuvirth later snatched a close-range wrister from Skinner.
"The second period was certainly awful," Buffalo coach Ted Nolan said. "We were making some bad decisions with the puck. We weren't forechecking or backchecking. You look at the shot total, and we were very lucky to escape with the score as it was."
Nolan was unhappy with the lack of offense outside of his top line.
"It's tough to win in any league with one line going," Nolan said. "Tyler and Drew have been really good for a while. The rest of the guys have to catch up."
|PS - Tyler Ennis (17) ASST: NONE|
1 - 0 BUF
|Jeff Skinner (26) ASST: Ryan Murphy (10), Elias Lindholm (10)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Drew Stafford (13) ASST: Cory Conacher (18), Mike Weber (5)|
2 - 1 BUF
|PPG - Alexander Semin (18) ASST: Andrej Sekera (30), Jordan Staal (20)|
2 - 2 Tie
|Jiri Tlusty (12) ASST: Alexander Semin (20), Jordan Staal (21)|
3 - 2 CAR
|EN - Nathan Gerbe (14) ASST: Patrick Dwyer (10), Eric Staal (35)|
4 - 2 CAR
|Alexander Semin Hooking against Cory Conacher|
|Cory Conacher Holding against Andrej Sekera|
|Cory Conacher Too many men on the ice|
|Henrik Tallinder Holding against Jeff Skinner|
|Tyler Ennis Slashing against Eric Staal|
|Christian Ehrhoff Tripping against Eric Staal|
|Jeff Skinner Interference - Goalkeeper against Michal Neuvirth|