RALEIGH, N.C. – Don Granato found a silver lining in yet another close game against a playoff-caliber opponent, though the result this time was a loss.
The Sabers twice led by a pair of goals – 2-0 and then 3-1 – before falling 5-3 to the Carolina Hurricanes, who reached 100 points and clinched a playoff berth inside PNC Arena on Thursday.
“What I said before the game is we need games like this,” Granato said.
“Hopefully the pressure was on us tonight. The atmosphere was outstanding, it was a playoff feel and certainly a team that’s extremely hungry for two points. We got one of their best games effort-wise and it’s a game our guys can actually learn from .”
Video: BUF Recap: Sabers split home-and-home vs. Hurricanes
The Sabers were coming off a 4-2 victory over the Hurricanes at home on Tuesday, their eighth win over an opponent in playoff position since the beginning of March. They were 10-3-2 overall in that span.
Their rematch in Raleigh got off to a rolling start thanks to the offensive fire power of Alex Touch, Tage Thompsonand Jeff Skinner, who combined to score goals on Buffalo’s first two shots of the night. Skinner earned the primary assist on both goals, scored by Thompson and Tuch, respectively.
Sebastian Aho put the Hurricanes on the board with a shot from the left faceoff circle during the second period, but Victor Olofson scored 30 seconds later to restore the two-goal lead.
“We got the lead, and we earned the lead,” Granato said. “I thought we deserved it. We made plays. We looked good, we looked confident.”
Video: POSTGAME: Garnet
Granato pointed to that confidence as the lesson of the night. The Hurricanes capitalized off turnovers to chip away at the Sabers’ lead, beginning with Teuvo Teravainen’s goal late in the second period.
Jordan Staal was next to pounce on a mistake, scoring the tying-goal from the slot less than five minutes into the third period. Aho scored the go-ahead goal with 8:21 remaining.
“I think later in the game some of our mistakes were overconfidence,” Granato said. “We were too confident, too sure of ourselves and didn’t buckle down. I think that’s part of gaining experience, is balancing it. You know, you have a sense you’re on your game, you’re feeling good, but you can’t feel too good about yourself. And we made some simple mistakes to the wrong players.”
The Sabers did keep their foot on the pedal even after falling behind. Kyle Okposo and Zemgus Girgensons forechecked their way to a power-play opportunity shortly after Aho’s go-ahead goal. Dylan Cozens and Mattias Samuelson both laid out in attempts to stop Staal’s empty-net goal.
The Hurricanes would have added a second goal into the empty net, had it not been for Jacob Bryson dropping to one knee to block the shot with 10 seconds remaining.
“That team had to play the whole 60 minutes, or they weren’t gonna win that game,” Granato said. “So, I do credit our guys for that. And like I said, we know we’re an evolving team. We’re a developing team. We know tonight – I know as a coach, we got better. There’s guys in that locker room who took that experience and got better.”
Skinner the setup man
Skinner has 15 primary assists at 5-on-5 after his two in the first period, according to Natural Stat Trick. His career high for him for a season is 17.
Both assists Thursday were quick feeds to his linemates. Skinner sent a no-look pass to Thompson, who rifled a shot past goalie Antti Raanta for his 32nd goal of the season.
Video: BUF@CAR: Thompson buries Skinner’s nifty feed
Thompson initiated the next sequence, lofting the puck from the offensive blue line to the opposite corner. Skinner chased it down and tapped the puck toward the net front, where Tuch was cutting across to bury his 10th goal with the Sabres.
Video: BUF@CAR: Tuch doubles lead in front by crease
“He’s working,” Granato said about Skinner. “He’s hungry. He’s attempt upon making plays as he always is. And it starts with his work by him. I mean, he’s ready to go.”
Olofsson stays hot
Olofsson has 10 points in his last 10 games. He has 10 goals in 18 games since the beginning of March.
The road trip continues in Florida on Friday. Coverage on MSG begins at 6:30 pm with puck drop scheduled for 7.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism