RALEIGH, N.C. – Not since Dominik Hasek back on March 1, 1996 had a Buffalo Sabres goaltender stopped more than 50 shots in a game.
Hasek made 55 saves on that night and Michal Neuvirth was almost just as busy on Thursday.
Neuvirth, in his second start with the Sabres since he was acquired in a trade with the Washington Capitals last week, turned aside 51 of 54 shots on Thursday in Buffalo’s 4-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena.
In those two starts, Neuvirth has faced a total of 98 shots.
Carolina scored two goals 1:55 apart in the third period to take a 3-1 lead. They added an empty netter with 0.4 seconds to play.
Drew Stafford snapped a 1-1 tie with 11:17 remaining in the third. Tyler Ennis scored on a penalty shot in the first period to open the scoring.
Jeff Skinner, Alexander Semin, Jiri Tlusty and Nathan Gerbe scored for Carolina. Cam Ward made 21 saves. Semin’s power-play goal, which made it 2-2 deflected in off the skate of Sabres defenseman Mike Weber.
“I tried to stay focus and not waste a lot of energy,” Neuvirth said. “I felt good and it’s obviously very frustrating to lose a game like that with the tying goal [on] a lucky bounce. But that’s hockey. We have to regroup and be ready for the next game.”
Neuvirth was busy all night between the pipes for Buffalo. He stopped 12 of 13 shots in the first period and all 22 shots he saw in the second. In one sequence he stopped Andrei Loktionov and then made a great left pad save on Drayson Bowman on the rebound. Buffalo was outshot 22-4 in the middle frame.
Both Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth are vying to be the No. 1 goaltender on the team and they’ve each made strong cases in the past few games. Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan welcomes that competition if it will push each of them to be better.
“If there’s one positive thing about it, Michal, I thought he was good again. The one thing our goalies are going to end up doing in the remaining 16 games we have, they’re going to get a lot of good looks and fight for that position,” Nolan said.
Ennis struck first for the Sabres when he scored on a penalty shot with 9:38 to play in the opening period. He drew the call when Jiri Tlusty bumped him off the puck when he went in on a break on goaltender Cam Ward.
On the penalty shot, Ennis skated in down the middle of the ice and snapped a shot over Ward’s blocker.
“I was pretty tired so I just went in and wanted to make a solid play at least so I went a little slow and got a pretty lucky goal,” Ennis said. “It was good to have it go in, but it’d better if we had won the game.”
It was the first penalty shot attempt of his career and Buffalo’s first penalty shot goal since Thomas Vanek beat Pascal Leclaire on April 10, 2010 at Ottawa.
The Sabres are now 20-for-37 on penalty shots in franchise history (19-for-35 in regular-season games).
The Hurricanes tied the game with 6:40 left when they maintained possession after an offensive zone faceoff win by Elias Lindholm. The puck went back to Ryan Murphy off the draw who then fed it Jeff Skinner. Skinner worked for his shot in front of the net and beat Neuvirth to make it 1-1.
“I’m not really too sure if we played OK in the first period. I don’t think we played as well as the score indicated but the second period was certainly awful,” Nolan said. “We were making some bad decisions with the puck. We were turning it over. We weren’t getting in on the forecheck. We weren’t backchecking. You look at the shot total, we were very lucky to escape that with the score as it was.”
The Sabres found themselves in penalty trouble for much of that second period but left the ice with the game tied 1-1. Carolina’s power play went 1-for-5 but they controlled play for much of the game and wound up winning 73 percent (47-17) of the faceoffs taken in the game. Killing all those penalties eventually wore on the Sabres.
“Mentally and physically it’s fatiguing because you’re kind of back on your heels and they get some momentum,” Stafford said. “You’ve got to do your best to work through it and stay focused. And I thought we did because we were able to get the lead there. It’s just unfortunate we weren’t able to hang onto it.”
Stafford snapped the tie 8:43 into the third, but Carolina roared back and had the lead five minutes later.
“We were able to steal the lead for a little while,” Stafford said. “But you’ve got to give Neuvirth credit. Our goalies are just taking 50-some shots a night. We have to figure out a way to build on that once in a while so it’s unfortunate.”
Alexander Sulzer, in his first game back after missing two games with a lower-body injury, left the game during his second shift with an upper-body injury. He took a hit from Jiri Tlutsy along the boards and was unable to return to the game. Nolan said after the game that Sulzer is likely going to miss about a week.
The Sabres take on the New York Islanders for their next game. Puck drop from Nassau Coliseum is set for 7 p.m. on Saturday.