RALEIGH, N.C. (AP)—It was the kind of play that saves not only a game, but perhaps a season.
Glen Wesley, an 18-year veteran and the longest tenured active NHL player not to win the Stanley Cup, dived over his goalie to stop a sure goal.
“It was just a reaction thing, and fortunately, it stayed out,” said Wesley, who played in his 157th career playoff game.
And fortunately for the Carolina Hurricanes, he was there to protect the lead in the third period.
Frank Kaberle and Justin Williams also scored for Carolina in Game 2, and rookie Cam Ward needed only 16 saves to pick up his ninth victory of the playoffs. The Hurricanes had a 16-4 advantage in shots during the second period, a game after the Sabres led that statistic 13-4.
“We made a note of it after the first period to make sure we didn’t have a letdown and continued to skate hard,” Whitney said. “With our team, when we skate hard, it’s a better mix for us, when we’re not standing around and watching other teams do their thing.”
Game 3 is Wednesday night in Buffalo.
“We were skating and it was just fun to watch,” Ward said. “You see the guys playing that hard in front of you, you want to do the same for them.”
Whitney redirected a shot from Eric Staal on the power play for his first goal to give Carolina a 2-1 lead, then added another with the teams skating 4-on-4. Matt Cullen dug the puck out of the corner and passed to Whitney between the circles, and his one-timer slipped through goalie Ryan Miller to make it 3-1.
From Whitney’s perspective, considering how open he was, he had to wait an eternity for Cullen’s assist.
“I was thinking, ‘Pick your head up and slide it,”’ Whitney said with a laugh. “It just kind of opened up. Once Matt was done stick-handling, he slid it over. It was a good play.”
Buffalo nearly got within one goal early in the third period when defenseman Jay McKee sent a slap shot toward the net. It bounced off Ward’s pads and was trickling toward the net when Wesley leaped over the goalie to swipe it out of harm’s way.
The play was reviewed in the replay booth, and referee Dan O’Halloran quickly skated away from the phone to signal no goal.
“I saw Cam stop it and it literally trickled through him,” Wesley said. “Fortunately, I was on the side and not in front of him, and I was just able to get my stick on it, I guess in the nick of time.”
Staal had a great view of the play, standing behind Wesley in front of the crease.
“That puck was going pretty quick, it was a great play,” Staal said. “You need those plays throughout the playoffs.”
A short time later, Williams skated in and sent a deflected wrist shot toward the net, where Miller simply whiffed on it with his glove to give Williams his sixth goal of the postseason. The capacity crowd at the RBC Center serenaded Buffalo’s rookie goalie with a chant of “Miller! Miller!” as the Hurricanes celebrated.
“The puck just hit the edge of my glove, hit my face, my shoulder, went in,” Miller said. “I would have liked to have played it differently, obviously.”
That proved to be an important goal when Buffalo captain Chris Drury backhanded a rebound over Ward’s right shoulder during a two-man advantage midway through the final period. It was 4-2 at that point, but the Hurricanes held on to take the best-of-seven series back to Buffalo despite Derek Roy’s power-play goal in the final second.
“I wouldn’t consider that a narrow defeat, by any means,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “Their lines were better than our lines, that’s just the bottom line. The first 40 minutes was probably the worst hockey we’ve played in the playoffs.”
Carolina’s power play, the best in the NHL during the playoffs despite being shut out in the opener, got off to a great start with goals on the first two opportunities. With right wing Ales Kotalik off for interference, the Hurricanes patiently passed the puck around before it got to Kaberle.
He used a screen from Rod Brind’Amour to beat Miller from right outside the left circle.
“It was important, obviously, it’s tough to play catch up against a team like that, the way that Miller’s been playing,” Cullen said. “You certainly don’t want to go down one, like we did the last game.”
Then came the second 20 minutes and the Hurricanes’ domination. It started early when Doug Weight deftly dragged the puck through the legs of Sabres defenseman Rory Fitzpatrick, but Miller was up to the task when Weight went to the backhand.
The Hurricanes took the lead for good with Jochen Hecht in the penalty box for tripping, with Whitney getting his first goal.
“We have to want it more if we want to move past these guys,” Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere said. “They’re a good hockey team, but we want to play harder.”
Buffalo D Teppo Numminen (lower body injury) didn’t dress and Doug Janik took his place in the lineup. It was Janik’s first game with the Sabres since the 2003-04 season. … In the first period, a message on the scoreboard read: “The Carolina Hurricanes have won as many Super Bowls as the Buffalo Bills.” … Wesley got an assist on Whitney’s second goal, his first point of the playoffs. He earned the second star for his efforts.