HURRICANES (21-15-6) at SABRES (18-19-5)
TV: FS-CR (HD), MSG-B (HD)
Carolina 6-2-2; Buffalo 5-4-1
First of four meetings this season. The teams split their matchups on the 2009-10 slate, with Ryan Miller
going 2-1-1 in net and Jochen Hecht
leading all scorers with 4 goals for Buffalo. Eric Staal
, Brandon Sutter
and Sergei Samsonov recorded 2 goals apiece for Carolina.
The Hurricanes are on a 6-0-2 run that must have the Thrashers feeling the heat -- Atlanta's lead over Carolina for third in the Southeast Division and, more importantly, the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff berth is down to just three points, and the Hurricanes also have three games in hand.
A pair of three-game winning streaks wrapped around two overtime defeats in which Carolina still picked up all-important points, and all of a sudden a playoff spot is well within sight. The Hurricanes will try to match their season high with a fourth straight win on Thursday. They needed a shootout Tuesday to claim a 6-5 victory over the Flames, who rallied from a three-goal deficit. Jussi Jokinen
scored twice in his return from injury and rookie Jeff Skinner
was the deciding factor in the penalty-shot tiebreaker.
"Tonight wasn't the greatest game, but you've got to find ways to win because you can't be perfect every night," said Tuomo Ruutu
, who also scored.
In order to cut the gap between itself and the top eight, Buffalo needs to get on a run similar to what Carolina has put together -- the Sabres brought a two-game winning streak into Tuesday night's home game against the Flyers and had an early two-goal lead, but surrendered the final five goals in a 5-2 defeat. Paul Gaustad
and Cody McCormick
scored in the first 10 minutes only to be outdone by former Buffalo sniper Danny Briere, who finished with a goal and 3 assists for Philadelphia.
"It's definitely disappointing," said Miller, who stopped 28 shots. "If we're going to compete with the top teams and win the necessary amount of games to make the playoffs, we have to be better in certain areas."
Erik Cole has 4 goals in his last three games for the Hurricanes. Staal has 3 goals and 3 assists during a six-game points streak. The captain has 9 goals and 5 assists over his last 14 games. Ruutu (2-4-6) and Skinner (3-2-5) have three-game points streaks going.
Carolina forward Ryan Carter (upper body) is day-to-day, while forward Jiri Tlusty
(arm) is on injured reserve. … Buffalo forward Derek Roy
(torn quad tendon) is out for the season, while forward Patrick Kaleta
(arm) is day-to-day.
Staal has 470 career points and is three away from tying his predecessor as captain, Rod Brind'Amour, as the Hurricanes' all-time leader. … Roy continues to lead the Sabres with 35 points, despite not having played since Dec. 23. Thomas Vanek
is second on the team with 31 points.
Buffalo had the crowd at HSBC Arena going Tuesday and the visitors on the ropes, but Philadelphia doesn't have the best record in the Eastern Conference for no reason. When the Sabres let up their guard, the Flyers took full advantage.
"We gave them everything they got," Gaustad told the Buffalo News. "I don't think it was them overwhelming us and taking over the game. It was mistakes we gave them. We had control and gave it up. That lies on the players. We've got a system and didn't execute for 60 minutes."