April 05, 2015

After posting one of the Eastern Conference's worst February records, this month could not be going much better for the Carolina Hurricanes.

The next week could go a long way toward determining if they'll be a legitimate playoff contender over the season's final month.

Coming off an impressive win over one of the top teams in the East, the visiting Hurricanes can't afford to slip up Saturday against one of the conference's worst, the Buffalo Sabres.

Shipping captain Eric Staal to the New York Rangers at the trade deadline seemed to signal Carolina (31-26-11) was packing in the season, but coach Bill Peters' team apparently isn't giving up on it quite yet.

The Hurricanes have earned seven points in four March games after going 5-6-2 last month and are in a tight race with Detroit, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia for the two wild-card spots. They'll visit the Penguins on Thursday, two days after a matchup at league-leading Washington, which means beating the lowly Sabres (27-33-9) is paramount in their quest to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

Carolina earned two points in a building in which it had dropped four in a row Thursday, opening a five-game trip with a 3-2 overtime victory over Boston to surpass last season's win total with 14 games to play. Phillip Di Giuseppe scored 1:30 into OT as the Hurricanes controlled the puck throughout the extra period and never allowed the Bruins to shoot.

''We believe you've got to hang on to the puck in overtime. Once you give it up, you typically don't get it back,'' Peters said. ''We want to be an attacking team.''

Jeff Skinner set up the winner, giving him four goals and three assists in his last five games, while Elias Lindholm scored on the power play.

The Hurricanes allowed a power-play goal but have killed off 12 of 13 penalties in the last six games.

The Sabres have gone 0 for 8 with the man advantage in their last three contests and allowed a power-play goal in five straight. They haven't yielded a power-play goal in six in a row since December 2010.

Carolina's Cam Ward stopped 30 shots Thursday to win his second straight start following a three-game losing streak. Ward, however, has dropped four straight starts in Buffalo with a 3.57 goals-against average.

In the only matchup this season Nov. 27, Ward stopped 11 of 14 shots before being replaced by Eddie Lack after two periods in a 4-1 road loss.

Ward could be facing heavy pressure as the Sabres have ramped up their attack in six games this month, averaging 33.3 shots for one of the league's highest marks.

Buffalo had 38 shots Thursday in Montreal but only Nicolas Deslauriers and Brian Gionta scored.

"It was a weird game," Gionta told the team's official website. "At spurts things were happening, at other spurts nothing was going on. But again, we've got to find ways to win these games."

Robin Lehner made 31 saves in starting for the sixth time in seven games for Buffalo. He's gone 1-5-2 in his last eight starts and has posted a 5.20 GAA in losing all three career starts against Carolina.

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