There's no point asking Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward to rank which of the 40 saves he made was the key one.
In a 1-0 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night, they all proved crucial in helping the Hurricanes snap a four-game skid (0-3-1) and creep closer into playoff contention.
"There's not one save that's not important," Ward said. "You've got to stop them all."
Ward was perfect when the offensively stagnant Hurricanes needed him most. Brandon Sutter's goal in the final minute of the first period was enough for ninth-place Carolina, which moved to within two points of the Sabres for the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff spot.
"We feel we have arguably the best goaltender in the world," coach Paul Maurice said. "For a one-goal hockey game, there was lots going on."
Ward stopped 22 shots in the first period alone, including a left pad save to turn away a shot from Cody McCormick set up alone at the right post. Ward was just as sharp in the third period, getting his glove out to snag Tyler Ennis' one-timer from the left circle with 14 minutes left.
The Sabres could only blame themselves for squandering a chance to open up ground in what's becoming a tightly packed race.
"It comes down to putting your chances away," said Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, who stopped 32 shots. "All in all, it was a good hockey game, but not the side we wanted to be on."
Buffalo dropped to 7-3-2 in its past 12 games and fell two points behind the New York Rangers, who moved into seventh place after beating the Islanders 6-3 earlier in the evening. Including Carolina, there's now four teams within four points of the Sabres with 3½ weeks left in the regular season.
Sutter's goal stood up as the difference, coming with 43 seconds left in the first period.
Derek Joslin started the play by getting a shot through a crowd from the blue line. Miller made the initial save, but couldn't control the rebound. Sutter dug out the puck and skated to his left to backhand it into the open side.
"We knew we had to treat tonight like our game was going to change our season," Sutter said. "If things didn't go our way it would've been a different story."
Ward was much of the story in the early going.
There was his glove save on Tim Connolly's snap shot during a two-on-one rush in the opening minute. And he foiled Connolly again late in the period with a glove save, after the Sabres center walked in alone after winning a faceoff.
"We came out and gave it everything we had in the first period," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We got some Grade A opportunities and we didn't capitalize."
The 22 shots by Buffalo are tied for third most in an opening period by any team — and tied for 15th most in any period — this season, according to STATS LLC.
The Hurricanes won despite continuing to get little offensive production — especially from their power play.
Carolina has now gone seven straight games without scoring three goals in regulation. And their power play finished 0 for 5 Tuesday night.
That extended the unit's streak to 0 for 27 over seven games, and 2 for 54 in its past 14.
"It doesn't matter at this time of year," Carolina captain Eric Staal said, referring to the lack of production. "It's about getting the win and the two points. So we'll take that."
Notes: Referee Kelly Sutherland was cut across the forehead after being struck by Mike Weber's stick as the Sabres defenseman turned in the corner to chase the puck around the net. Sutherland was examined by a Sabres trainer and returned in time for the next faceoff following a commercial break. ... Sabres RW Drew Stafford returned after missing two games with an upper body injury. ... Hurricanes D Jamie McBain missed his second straight game and will be out three to four weeks with a shoulder injury. ... Sabres new owner Terry Pegula sat next to team president Ted Black among the fans in Section 317 of the upper deck of HSBC Arena, and received a standing ovation when shown on the video scoreboard in the first period. The two did not return for the second period.