The Buffalo Sabres were able to jump out to a big lead Monday night, but they still needed their goaltender to come up with some huge stops down the stretch to secure the victory.
Four different Sabres recorded multi-point nights in the team’s 4-3 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes at First Niagara Center and goaltender Anders Lindback shut the door, making a career-high 49 saves.
Tyler Ennis hit the 20-goal mark in back-to-back seasons and for the third time in his career. With a goal and an assist on the night, the Sabres’ leading scorer now has 45 points this season. It marks his most prolific season since a tallied a career-high 49 points in 2010-11.
“It’s one of those benchmarks you want to get to, even when things aren’t going your way or things are frustrating,” he said. “You always want to play well individually and achieve some goals and continue to play with good habits, not fall into those bad habits.”
He was also quick to credit his linemates – Johan Larsson and Matt Moulson. In the 10 games they’ve been on a line together, Ennis has nine points (4+5), Larsson has nine points (3+6) and Moulson has 10 points (4+6).
Larsson picked up a goal and an assist as well and now has seven points (2+5) in his past eight games. He also has 13 points (5+8) in his past 15 games.
“Larsson and Matty have been playing awesome so I really haven’t had to do too much,” Ennis said. “They’ve been finding me and we’ve got some good chemistry.”
Captain Brian Gionta (1+1) and defenseman Zach Bogosian (0+2) also had multiple points. Mikhail Grigorenko was Buffalo’s other goal scorer.
Gionta has been on quite a tear lately. He has five goals and nine assists for 14 points in his past 12 games, dating back to March 16. He also has five multi-point games in his past eight.
Buffalo got on the board first when Gionta threw a pass out in front to Grigorenko, who won a battle in front to knock one in past Cam Ward to open the scoring 5:41 into the contest. It was Grigorenko’s second of the season and his first goal in his past 12 games.
Buffalo then went up 2-0 when Gionta skated in down the left wing and wristed a shot in with 4:57 remaining in the first.
However, despite the lead, Buffalo was outshot 23-12 in the opening 20.
Larsson gave Buffalo a three-goal lead 1:18 into the second, banging home a puck for his sixth of the season. After Bogosian dumped the puck into the left wing corner, Ennis skated in to retrieve it and his pass out front deflected right to Larsson, who made no mistake.
Ennis’ 20th goal of the year gave Buffalo the 4-0 lead as he roofed a pass from Larsson with 3:12 remaining in the middle frame.
Patrick Dwyer put a backhand shot over Lindback’s shoulder with 1:54 left in the second for Carolina’s first goal. Alexander Semin then patiently deked around Lindback 2:31 into the third period to make it 4-2.
Things got tight when the Hurricanes capitalized after pulling the goaltender on Eric Staal’s goal with 5:22 left in regulation. That made it a one-goal game.
Grigorenko said that the spirit on the bench never wavered, even when it looked like another collapse could be on the way. Buffalo gave up a late third-period lead at home to the Blackhawks on Friday that cost them a victory.
“Even when it was 4-3, I don’t think we broke. We still thought we were going to win that game no matter what and the bench was alive,” Grigorenko said. “All the guys really wanted those two points and I think when 22 guys want to win that badly, it’s going to work.”
Getting strong goaltending certainly helped that belief factor. Lindback came up with some huge stops in the late going to keep the Sabres in the lead.
“[Goaltending coach Arturs Irbe has] done a tremendous job and from the first time we’d seen Lindback come in here for the first practice, we didn’t know what quite we had,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “But slowly, he got better, he got his confidence going.
“I’m a big strong believer that you give anybody confidence and you give them some instruction and direction and they’ll get better. Certainly that’s happened.”
Before the game, the Sabres announced that defenseman Mike Weber will be undergoing season-ending surgery later this week to treat a sports hernia. He will miss the remainder of the season.
“It’s unfortunate,” Nolan said. “Webey gives us everything he has every night so it had to be pretty bad for him to close it down for the year.”
The Sabres were also without defenseman Andre Benoit for much of the game. He played just one shift early in the second period and left with an injury. He returned for only a single four-second shift midway through the third. His condition will be evaluated over the next few days to see if he’ll be ready for the team’s final two games.
With Benoit injured, the Sabres have only five healthy defensemen on the roster.
Buffalo will travel to Columbus for a game Friday night against the Blue Jackets (7 p.m.) and then wrap up the 2014-15 season on Saturday at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins (7 p.m.). Both games are part of Fan Appreciation Weekend, and more details can be found by clicking here.