RALEIGH, N.C. (AP)—The shutout was lost in the final minute for Ryan Miller. Then, the Buffalo Sabres came off the ice and found out that something even more important got away—any chance at the playoffs.
Jason Pominville scored twice, but the Sabres didn’t get any outside help Thursday night, so they had to settle for a 5-1 rout of Carolina that snapped the Hurricanes’ nine-game winning streak in rather decisive fashion.
Miller stopped 26 shots and helped Buffalo dominate the NHL’s hottest team while winning its second straight—even if the Sabres insisted they were unaware that their postseason fate was being determined some 500 miles away in New York. They got back to the dressing room just in time to watch the Rangers polish off a 2-1 win over Philadelphia.
Losing his shutout late “wasn’t as disappointing as losing the whole season in 5 minutes,” Miller said.
Matt Ellis and Jochen Hecht also scored, Derek Roy converted a penalty shot, and Tim Connolly, Daniel Paille and Jaroslav Spacek had two assists apiece. They helped Buffalo go up 4-0 midway through the second period after scoring three times in a 6:58 span.
“You get (the opportunities), and I think that makes a difference,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “We’ve had those opportunities in the past, and haven’t cashed in. But you get them, and you get them on the road, and you get a team down. We got the bounces tonight.”
Except, of course, for the ones in New York.
The Sabres entered facing an uphill climb to their first playoff berth since 2007, needing to beat both Carolina and East-leading Boston while hoping the Flyers would claim regulation victories in both of their season-ending games against the Rangers.
“This was probably one of our better games this year,” Pominville said. “We had our backs against the wall. We had to win.”
And they did, by thoroughly outworking a Hurricanes team that had won nine straight to match the record set twice by the 2005-06 team that won the Stanley Cup. Buffalo snapped a three-game losing streak at the RBC Center, where Carolina had won a club-record 12 straight games to vault into contention for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Eric Staal’s 40th goal came with 27.1 seconds remaining and helped Carolina avoid its second shutout loss of the season. Cam Ward made his 28th straight start and was looking for his 40th victory, but allowed four of the 13 shots he faced to get past him before he was replaced by Michael Leighton midway through the second.
“The goals that he allowed certainly weren’t Cam Ward’s doing,” Hurricanes forward Ray Whitney said. “Every goal they scored was a product of people in front of him. … He would have liked to get his 40th, but we as a team weren’t mentally there to give him that.”
Leighton, making his first appearance since Feb. 24, finished with 11 saves while allowing Roy’s penalty shot in the third that made it 5-0.
“In order to stew over something, you have to leave it in the pot for a long period of time,” Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. “This one will be out in the garbage and not talked about again.”
The Hurricanes were coming off a record-setting 9-0 rout of the New York Islanders two nights earlier, but this time, the Sabres turned the tables on them with their second-period flurry.
Ellis made it 2-0 when he pulled in the puck near the right post and wrapped it around the other side with 16:45 left for his sixth goal and first since Feb. 17. Buffalo went up by three goals after Paille checked Dennis Seidenberg in the corner, took the puck and dished it to a hard-charging Hecht, who wristed it past Ward for his 12th and second in four games.
Pominville then pushed it to 4-0 and chased Ward by scoring off a draw with 9:47 left, giving him four goals in five games.
“We got back to playing the way we don’t want to play, and that’s slow, kind of losing some of those little battles that we’ve been winning in the last month,” Whitney said. “But we’re not going to go right to the gutter after this, by any means. … We realize that if we don’t bring it every night, we’re not THAT good.”
Buffalo RW Maxim Afinogenov was a late scratch because of the flu. … Two nights after peppering the Islanders with a club-record 57 shots, Carolina had 30 fewer against the Sabres. … The Hurricanes are 1-5 in games immediately following shutout victories this season.