BUFFALO - The Carolina Hurricanes meet up with the Buffalo Sabres in a match-up of two teams fighting for their playoff lives in the Eastern Conference.
This game, the second in a season-long, five-game road swing for the Hurricanes, comes on the heels of a 4-0 shutout victory in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.
The Big Game
The Hurricanes have 58 points in the standings. The Sabres, with a game in hand, have 58 points in the standings. Both teams sit three points out of a playoff spot.
This is, to put it simply, a big game.
Until the next game, of course.
"They are all big. We don't have the luxury of being 15-20 games over .500 and you don't have to go to the well. But we do. That's the way it is," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said after practice on Wednesday. "That's the way it's going to be right until the end of the year, I'm sure. It's tough mentally to always do that, but that's what being a pro is. Our guys are figuring that out."
After a shutout win over a divisional opponent on Tuesday, replicating that effort is the next task.
"We've had a lot of those efforts this year," Brind'Amour said. "That's how we have to do it. The good news is we got rewarded for it, so I think that makes the message pretty easy. If we want to have success in this league, there's a certain way we have to play and prepare to play.
The Big Win
The Hurricanes set the tone for this road trip with a 4-0 shutout victory in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, repayment for the Penguins shutout win in Raleigh just before Christmas.
Curtis McElhinney made 23 saves in his first shutout of the season, while four different players netted goals for the Hurricanes. Among the goal scorers were two who set single-season career highs in goals: Jordan Martinook (12) and Brett Pesce (5).
"We were snake bitten for goals in the first half of the year. It wasn't for a lack of opportunities," Brind'Amour said. "The puck wasn't going in. For whatever reason, in the last month or month and a half, we've found the back of the net, and it's certainly made it easier to play."
The Last Meeting
After having their season-best, five-game winning streak snapped in Tampa, the Hurricanes bounced back to defeat the Buffalo Sabres, 4-3, in Jeff Skinner's return to Raleigh on Jan. 11. The Canes' top line of Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Micheal Ferland combined for seven points; Aho scored two goals, while Ferland posted a career single-game high three points (1g, 2a).
Since that last meeting, the Sabres have posted a 3-5-0 record. At 4-6-0 in their last 10 games, the Sabres have fallen back behind the playoff cut line in the Eastern Conference and, save for their game in hand, sit even with the Canes with 58 points. Jeff Skinner leads the Sabres with 31 goals, but he's scored just five since the calendar flipped to 2019.
ADVANCE AUTO PARTS KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Rise to the Occasion
This is the biggest game of the season (until the next one, of course). With the Hurricanes and Sabres equal in points in the standings, this is a huge four-point swing game. The Canes need to rise to the occasion and come with their best again.
2. Clamp Down
The Hurricanes clamped down on the Sabres' dangerous top line nearly a month ago in Raleigh to keep that trio off the scoresheet at even strength. Match-ups will be more difficult to dictate on the road, so whoever is on the ice against Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner will need to be responsible and aware.
3. Force the Issue
The Hurricanes forechecked their way to victory on Tuesday in Pittsburgh. When they are at their best, they're quick and efficient getting pucks deep and aggressive in retrieval. Aho and the Canes' top line had an excellent night against the Sabres in the last meeting between these two teams, and if they can replicate that tonight, the visiting team has a good chance of coming away with two points.
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