RALEIGH, N.C. - Each Hurricanes player knew what was at stake. A loss by Washington earlier Saturday in the day by Boston gave Carolina a chance to extend its lead in the Southeast Division.
"That gives you that much more motivation going out there," right-winger Keith Aucoin said. "It's nice knowing where you stand."
Now the Hurricanes stand a bit further ahead.
Scott Walker deflected in a shot from Eric Staal in overtime and Carolina beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 Saturday night to take a seven-point lead over the Capitals.
Sergei Samsonov, Keith Aucoin and Tim Gleason also scored for the Hurricanes, who won for the seventh time in eight games to pull away from Washington. In Boston, the Capitals gave up two power-play goals in the final five minutes to lose 2-1.
"We're worrying about ourselves now," Walker said. "That's all we can do."
Walker's goal made Carolina 1-for-8 with the man-advantage, but that hardly mattered. With 11 games left, the 2006 Stanley Cup champions appear to be headed back to the playoffs after missing out last season.
"We want to push that gap further," Staal said. "We have to keep winning games."
Derek Roy, Drew Stafford and Toni Lydman had goals for the Sabres, who have lost four of five. Buffalo dropped four points behind eighth-place Philadelphia and the post-season cutoff in the Eastern Conference with 13 games remaining.
"It's good that we got a point and battled back and showed character, but on the other hand, we needed two points," Roy said. "We can't wait until the last five games to start playing. We've got to do it now."
Buffalo tied the game midway through the third period while on the power play. A scrum in front of the net caused Carolina goalie Cam Ward to lose his stick. Lydman skated in from the blue-line to take advantage, poking in a rebound to make it 3-3.
The Hurricanes had two opportunities with the man-advantage in the final five minutes of regulation, but the Sabres held on to force overtime, mostly because of goalie Ryan Miller. He swallowed up a handful of chances, keeping Carolina 0-for-7 on the power play in regulation.
Then came overtime, and Walker came through. He was sent on the ice by coach Peter Laviolette to replace Samsonov, and seconds later, he made the move pay off with his 10th goal of the season.
"Guys were tired, we played a lot of power play down the stretch," Laviolette said. "Walks, I thought he would go to the front of the net. It worked out well."
Ward finished with 27 saves but probably would like to replay the first two Buffalo goals. On the initial one, he was alone with the puck behind his net and tried to clear it along the boards. Roy followed up a bad bounce and poked the puck in to cut Carolina's lead to 2-1 in the second period.
About a minute later, the Hurricanes had their two-goal lead back when Samsonov put back the rebound of Staal's shot. It was Samsonov's 12th goal since joining the team Jan. 8 when he was claimed on waivers from Chicago.
Buffalo got back within a goal late in the second when Ward again got caught out of position. This time, he glided out to meet Dmitri Kalinin, who was skating in with the puck. Kalinin sent the puck around Ward toward the crease, and Stafford got enough of his stick on it to make it 3-2.
"It was kind of a playoff game," Buffalo right wing Maxim Afinogenov said. "They are playing for the playoffs, we are fighting for the playoffs. It's tough right now."
Of course, the Sabres were a bit fortunate to be that close. The Hurricanes dominated the opening period, and only the brilliance of Miller kept the game from becoming a rout early on, even when the penalties started piling up.
"You can't help but call them the way we're skating," Staal said. "The way the game is played right now, it plays to our strength."
Notes: Staal was sporting a gash on his face after the game after taking an inadvertent high stick. The Sabres play five of their next seven at home, including a rematch with Carolina on Friday.