The Carolina Hurricanes no longer have Jeff Skinner but welcomed him back Friday.
Not that everyone treated Skinner warmly at PNC Arena. While Skinner did have a power-play goal for the Buffalo Sabres, the Canes’ Sebastian Aho, in one second-period exchange, knocked the winger to the ice, then gave him a few rude shoves after Skinner was back up.
Nor did Aho go easy on the Sabres. While Skinner was once the Canes’ rising young star and big fan favorite, Aho now is that guy, and his two goals spurred both his reunited line and a 4-3 victory.
Aho called both of his goals lucky and there was some luck involved, as the puck went off Sabres defensemen each time -- first rookie Rasmus Dahlin, then Jake McCabe -- and past goalie Carter Hutton. And the Canes’ Micheal Ferland, who had the Canes’ first goal and added two assists, scored on a freak play that also had Hutton shaking his head.
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Ferland, back on Aho’s line with Teuvo Teravainen, had a shot go off Hutton’s glove, pop up on top of the net, then back to the ice behind Hutton. Sabres’ defenseman Marco Scandella tried to play the puck but nudged it in the net, Scandella draping himself over the cage in disgust.
Add in a one-punch victory in a fight by Canes defenseman Justin Faulk, another goal by captain Justin Williams, some timely penalty killing and enough stops from goalie Curtis McElhinney and it was enough to help the Canes (21-18-5) ease some of the deep disappointment of Thursday’s tough loss at Tampa Bay.
“It was a great bounce-back,” said Aho, who now has 18 goals.
Ferland had the first three-point game of his career and Teravainen added two assists as the Canes’ top line, often matched up against Jack Eichel’s line that included Skinner, produced seven points. As for Williams, the Canes captain now has goals in four straight games and points in six.
Ferland and Aho each had plus-4 games. Ferland said Aho is much like Calgary star Johnny Gaudreau, once his line mate with the Flames, saying, “Enough isn’t enough, ever, with those two guys. They never take their foot off the gas.”
The Canes, playing one of their best games of the season, led the Lightning 1-0 with eight minutes left in regulation, only to allow two power-play goals and an empty-netter in a 3-1 loss. It was a gut-punch loss, ending a five-game win streak, and one that had Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour guessing how much of a physical and emotional toll it would have with another game Friday.
“Obviously we thought we deserved better, at least a point last game,” Ferland said. “It was nice to have a game right away. We could park that one and move forward.”
In came Skinner and the Sabres. That added another level of excitement, and the crowd was of 17,199 was loud and lively, giving Skinner an ovation during a video-board tribute in the first period.
Ferland’s goal gave the Canes a 1-0 lead, but Skinner answered on the power play, knocking the puck out of the air and past McElhinney. Sabres fans in the crowd roared and some Canes fans probably applauded the player who spent eight seasons in a Carolina uniform and provided a lot of thrills and highlights wearing No. 53.
The goal was Skinner’s 30th of the season for the Sabres (23-15-6), marking the fourth time in his career he has reached the 30-goal level.
The second period was a wild one. Williams scored with a sweet move around the Sabres’ Tage Thompson and bar-down shot against Hutton. Buffalo’s Jason Pominville responded 30 seconds later with a shot and score from the slot, but Aho took it from there.
His first goal came when he centered a pass to Teravainen, the puck hitting Dahlin’s skate in front. The second came after a Ferland shot, Aho collecting the rebound and circling the net for a wraparound, the puck going off McCabe and leaking through Hutton.
“We played better as the game went on,” Brind’Amour said. “We came up with some saves when we needed it and we got a couple of breaks, which was nice to see. We were a little bit deflated after last night and it was nice to see the guys come out and play hard.”
Faulk dropped the gloves after an open-ice collision with Johan Larsson, getting in a quick, big blow that hit Larsson high on the shoulder and had him tumbling to the ice. It resulted in a Buffalo power play but the Canes killed it off.
Although the Sabres’ Kyle Okposo scored with 3:12 left in regulation, McElhinney made some big stops in the third.