BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - Justin Williams hardly celebrated when he scored Carolina's fourth goal in a game that seemed destined to become a rout against Buffalo.
Little did Williams realize his goal - padding the Hurricanes' lead to 4-0 in the final minutes of the second period - would prove to be the decisive one. Carolina weathered the Sabres' three-goal third-period to pull out a 4-3 victory Wednesday night.
"I didn't expect it to be the game-winner, but I guess we needed it," said Williams, who also added an assist in the meeting between two of the Eastern Conference's elite teams. "It's two points and we'll get the heck out of here."
Kevyn Adams, Cory Stillman and Anton Babchuk also scored for Carolina, which snapped a two-game losing streak. Rod Brind'Amour had two assists allowing the Hurricanes (46-17-6) to creep within two points of East-leading Ottawa.
"Doesn't really matter," Brind'Amour said, referring to the third-period letdown. "We got the win."
Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek and Jiri Novotny scored goals in a 10-minute, third-period span, but the Sabres failed to get the equalizer. They managed just four shots in the final seven minutes after Novotny cut the lead to 4-3.
Although the Sabres dropped their third straight, the team's longest drought since losing four in a row in November, the players were encouraged by the final 20 minutes.
"I think it was big of us to come out and not pout and whine and put our heads down," goalie Ryan Miller said. "We skated and competed and played exactly the kind of hockey we've played all year. That's encouraging."
The Hurricanes appeared to take full control in the second period, a switch after they had fallen behind 2-0 in each of their last two games.
Williams' goal, scored with 1:45 left, came 72 seconds after Babchuk made it 3-0.
Driving to the net, and being held by defender Henrik Tallinder, Williams managed to get a weak shot off that bounced into the air after glancing off Miller's stick.
Williams got his stick out and batted the puck in before Miller could glove it.
The Sabres got back in the game and got the sellout crowd on its feet when Novotny scored a short-handed goal, converting Daniel Briere's pass, on a two-on-one break to cut the lead to 4-3 with seven minutes left.
The Sabres also had a goal disallowed midway through the second period when referee Brad Meier called Briere for goaltender interference before Taylor Pyatt scored.
"Was it a third period that we're real happy with? No," Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette said. "But the opposition had something to say about that. ... We move on. It's in the column and it's a pretty gutsy effort by our guys."
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff was pleased with how his team finished but unhappy with the defensive letdowns that allowed the Hurricanes to take the lead.
Ruff returned to the bench after missing the team's 5-0 loss at Atlanta on Monday, attending to his 11-year-old daughter, Madeleine. She had surgery Tuesday to remove a brain tumor.
Ruff thanked the support his family has received in recent weeks and said his daughter is expected to have a full recovery.
Notes: The Hurricanes were minus C Doug Weight (groin), who missed his second straight game, and D Bret Hedican (lower body injury), who had played in Carolina's 3-2 loss at Toronto. ... Buffalo recalled Novotny from AHL Rochester on Wednesday to fill in for Tim Connolly, who missed his fourth straight game with a knee injury. ... Pominville's goal scored 2:50 into the third period, ended the Sabres goal-less drought at 113:19, dating to the third period of Buffalo's 4-2 loss at Ottawa. ... Hurricanes' Eric Staal assisted on Stillman's goal, extending his point streak to seven games, in which he has three goals and six assists.