RALEIGH, N.C. — The Sabres arrived at the midpoint of their season with a 4-3 loss to Carolina, a setback that encapsulated Buffalo’s biggest blunders of the first half:
• They don’t always play a full game.
• They have too many defensive mistakes.
• They have lapses after goals that allow opponents to regain momentum.
The Sabres had cleaned up most of their problems during a 3-0-1 run, but Carolina ended the streak Tuesday by picking on the visitor’s weaknesses in PNC Arena. The Hurricanes built a 2-0 lead, in part because Buffalo slept through the opening 20 minutes, then repeatedly pulled away during the third whenever the Sabres got close in a frantic attempt to rally.
“It comes back to playing a full 60 minutes,” defenseman Tyler Myers said. “It’s what’s gotten us in trouble the past three years that I can remember. We have to find a way to start a game and to finish it. We can’t start playing when it’s too late.
“Basically, for the whole third period, we were really good. When we were a desperate team, we played exactly the way we need to play on any given night. In a way it was really nice to see the way we can be as a team, the way we can play as a team.
“It’s frustrating knowing we can play like that and we don’t do it for a full 60 and we don’t stay consistent with it.”
The Hurricanes attempted 33 shots in the first period while Buffalo had just 11. The Sabres were fortunate that only Jiri Tlusty’s deflection 1:31 into the game found the net in the opening 20 minutes.
“They completely outworked us,” Myers said. “They were all over us in our D-zone, and we didn’t deserve to win that period.”
They didn’t win the second, either, as Joe Corvo scored on the power play to double Carolina’s lead.
Cody Hodgson scored his first of two goals just 25 seconds into the third to prove that Carolina’s Justin Peters wasn’t invincible. The goaltender, called up Monday to replace injured Cam Ward and starting only because No. 2 netminder Dan Ellis was ill, earned a standing ovation from the crowd of 15,277 after robbing Thomas Vanek of an open-net goal by diving and reaching his stick across the goal line late in the second.
Peters finished with 37 saves in his first NHL start of the year.
“He made some great glove saves,” Hodgson said. “The ones we scored weren’t easy goals, so he played a good game.”
Just 50 seconds after Hodgson made it 2-1, Jussi Jokinen put the Sabres back in a two-goal hole. T.J. Brennan made it 3-2 with 5:27 left on a rare power-play goal, but Alexander Semin scored 1:40 later to again put Buffalo down by two.
“It was obviously disappointing,” Sabres interim coach Ron Rolston said. “We were trying to fight back in it, and they would get one right after that. We’ve got to do a better job of taking care of those next couple shifts after we score.”
Hodgson’s highlight-reel goal with 35 seconds left – he stole the puck from Eric Staal at center ice and went around both Tlusty and Justin Faulk – completed the scoring.
“Offensively, obviously, it was just too little, too late,” said Sabres right wing Brian Flynn.
The line of Staal, Tlusty and Semin combined for two goals and five assists. Most of the points came when they got free in front for tip-ins or point-blank shots on Ryan Miller (24 saves).
“We could have been tighter in some of those instances, without question,” said Rolston, whose team visits New Jersey on Thursday with a 9-13-2 record. “Their top line, they make a lot of skill plays in that area. We probably could have had better defensive sticks, but it’s a work in progress.”