RALEIGH, N.C. -- There was a time when Justin Peters was a high-energy battler in the Carolina net.
In three previous seasons, Peters has been an on-and-off presence in the Hurricanes crease. For the first two, his physical energy was on display for everyone to see as he reached and lunged for pucks, sometimes having success, sometimes not.
On Tuesday night, in his first NHL game of the season, the 26-year-old brought a level of patience his starting assignment, looking spectacular at times as the Hurricanes beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 at PNC Arena.
So who gets the credit for that methodical demeanor that translated to 37 saves? Peters gave it to Hurricanes starter Cam Ward.
"You watch Cam Ward play, and he's so calm and cool back there," Peters said after making his 29th NHL appearance. "I try to learn from guys like him, watching on TV. His demeanor back there really feeds a lot to the bench. Being a calm goalie back there is something I try to model myself after."
Peters will get an extended opportunity with the Hurricanes after Ward was diagnosed with a sprained MCL and will miss six to eight weeks. Peters will share the duties with Dan Ellis.
After a rocky season as Ward's backup in 2010-11, Peters spent most of the 2011-12 season with Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League. But his seven NHL appearances that season revealed a different player, one with enough poise to register a .931 save percentage.
"He's a competitor," coach Kirk Muller said. "You take good and bad [because] you're learning all the time. He's been wanting to be here and he showed that he's prepared himself. He's matured and he was ready for a big game and had a really strong effort tonight."
For the most of the first period, Peters managed to relax and settle in, as the Hurricanes took an early 1-0 lead on Jiri Tlusty's goal.
But after a Joe Corvo slap shot extended the Carolina lead to 2-0 in the second, the Sabres came to life. Peters responded by making increasingly difficult saves as the period continued. After stopping Tyler Ennis on a short breakaway, he shut down Jason Pominville on the backhand. When he gloved TJ Brennan's rising blast to the far post, Brennan threw his head back in frustration.
Peters saved his best for the final moments of the second period. In a goalmouth scramble, the puck squirted free to Thomas Vanek with an open net at the left post. Peters came across the crease and batted Vanek's bid away with the barrel of his goal stick.
"I was trying to cover the puck to my left, and I kind of gave a rebound out," Peters said. "Honestly, it was just desperation. I haven't seen it, but I guess I got it with my paddle."
The teams played a more wide-open third period. Buffalo forward Cody Hodgson cut the lead in half, only to have Carolina's Jussi Jokinen take a feed from Eric Staal to extend the lead to 3-1. Brennan closed the gap again, converting a long rebound off the glass. But Alex Semin then buried a pass from Staal, who earned his third assist of the night. Cody Hodgson made it 4-3 with 35 seconds remaining.
"I thought our first two periods were good, and then we just go in a trap of letting our guard down," Muller said.
The late comeback was little consolation for the Sabres, who had earned seven points in their past four games.
“It comes back to playing a full 60 minutes,” Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers said. “It is what has gotten us in trouble the last three years. We have to find a way to start a game and finish it. We can’t start playing when it’s too late."
Staal continues to enjoy a career scoring pace. With 12 goals and 28 points in 22 games he is entrenched among the league's top 10.
"Eric's made a huge commitment to playing the game the right way without the puck," Muller said. "I think he has a lot of pride in that. He's gone from a bit of an offensive guy to a two-way centerman. It's been a big part of our group having success."
It will take more than a stellar effort from Staal for the Hurricanes to reach the playoffs for the first time in four years. Players like Peters, now an integral part of the lineup, will have to play their roles successfully as well.
Staal believes he can.
"He played a lot of good games for us toward the end of last year," the Hurricanes captain said. "Obviously the situation was a little bit different, coming straight up from Charlotte and into the mix, but I'm happy he could come out and play the way he did because he assured us the win tonight when we needed him."
For his part, Peters showed the demeanor a player who had been here before, holding his team in the game when the action heated up. He's still getting his feet wet as an NHL player, despite being seven seasons into his professional career -- one that has provided more good than bad.
"It's definitely flown by," said Peters. "There have been a lot of growing pains along the way. Every day is just awesome being here in the NHL. Every day I've had in Charlotte and Albany, I've enjoyed the opportunity to play professional hockey."