Devils caught in Hurricanes’ vacuum


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Another deflection by the Carolina Hurricanes put the New Jersey Devils on the brink of being bounced out of the playoffs.

Rod Brind’Amour got his stick on Eric Staal’s long shot during a power play and sent the puck hopping between Martin Brodeur’s pads late in the second period on Wednesday night to give the Hurricanes a 3-2 victory and a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Carolina has frustrated the Devils throughout the series that could end Saturday in New Jersey. The Hurricanes have scored goals on tips, bank shots, even with redirections by skates – theirs and the Devils’ – to move within one win of the conference finals for the second time in four seasons.

Matt Cullen added another man-advantage goal, and Justin Williams also scored for the Hurricanes, who have won seven straight since dropping the opening two games in the first round to Montreal.

Since Cam Ward replaced Martin Gerber early in Game 2 against the Canadiens, Carolina has allowed just 12 goals. The 22-year-old rookie made 28 saves to become the second NHL goalie to win his first seven postseason starts, joining Tiny Thompson, who did it for Boston in 1929-30.

Sergei Brylin and Patrik Elias scored for the Devils, who went from a 15-game winning streak to a three-game skid that has their season all but over. Only two NHL teams have come back from an 0-3 hole.

Brodeur made 21 saves but again was outdueled by Ward. New Jersey was just 3 seconds away from getting even in the series in Game 2, but consecutive one-goal losses have put the second round far out of reach.

New Jersey was done in by a 4-minute, high-sticking penalty against Jamie Langenbrunner that produced the winning goal with 1:01 left in the second period.

Brind’Amour quieted the non-sellout crowd when he was the last to touch Staal’s twice-deflected drive from the point and bounced it between Brodeur’s pads.

New Jersey killed off the remainder of the power play to start the third but only mustered seven shots in the period despite two full power plays. Langenbrunner had several scoring chances but whistled some drives wide of Ward.

Carolina answered each of New Jersey’s two goals with production from its potent postseason power play that is 14-for-48 – tops in the league.

Sabres 3, Senators 2

BUFFALO, N.Y. – J.P. Dumont’s floater from the right circle 5:05 into overtime sealed Buffalo’s 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night, and gave the Sabres a 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinal.

Chris Drury and Maxim Afinogenov also scored and rookie Ryan Miller stopped 26 shots for the Sabres who have won five straight, are 4-0 at home and defeated the Senators for the ninth straight time in the playoffs, dating to a 1997 first-round series.

The Sabres won despite missing two top regulars – center Tim Connolly and defenseman Dmitri Kalinin – effectively shutting down the East’s No. 1 seed, a team that led the NHL with 314 goals in the regular season. The Senators, who have never overcome a two-game deficit never mind 3-0, have little time to regroup with Game 4 of the best-of-seven series at Buffalo on Thursday night. All three games of the series have been decided by one goal, including Buffalo’s 7-6 overtime win in Game 1.

Jason Spezza scored twice, both on the power play, for Ottawa and forced overtime by scoring with 90 seconds remaining in regulation.

But the Sabres regained the edge and won their third overtime game of the postseason.

Taylor Pyatt set up the decisive goal by carrying the puck up the left wing and feeding a pass across the middle. The puck bounced high off the stick of Ottawa’s Mike Fisher, but Dumont had time to leap and bring it down. Dumont then swiped at a bouncing puck, his shot floating in over goaltender Ray Emery’s right shoulder.

Spezza’s second goal silenced the sellout crowd, when he deflected in Brian Pothier’s shot from the point. It came 34 seconds into a power play after Buffalo’s Teppo Numminen was penalized for tripping Martin Havlat driving into the Sabres’ zone.

Afinogenov converted Derek Roy’s centering pass to give Buffalo a 2-1 lead with 10:15 left in the third period.

0The goal came four minutes after Spezza tied the game with Ottawa enjoying a two-man advantage.

Buffalo had the best initial chance 90 seconds into overtime when Mike Grier drove alone to the net, only to have Emery kick out his left pad to make the stop at the last possible second.

Miller responded a few minutes later when he held his ground to stop Peter Schaefer’s backhander from in close.

Buffalo came out strong making the Senators’ highly respected defense look like it was standing still.

Capitalizing on their speed, the Sabres dominated the play for most of the first period despite being outshot 10-5. The Sabres opened the scoring – the ninth time they’ve scored first this postseason – on Drury’s power-play goal 10 minutes in.

Notes: Senators G Dominik Hasek practiced Wednesday morning, suggesting he could be ready to return after hurting his groin during the Olympics in February. … Sabres C Jiri Novotny made his NHL playoff debut filling in for Connolly. D Rory Fitzpatrick replaced Kalinin, making his second appearance this postseason. … Senators D Anton Volchenkov, hurt during a collision with Buffalo’s Paul Gaustad in Game 2, did not play and was replaced by Christoph Schubert. … Sabres rookie LW Thomas Vanek was a healthy scratch for the second straight game after struggling defensively in Game 1. … Chicago scored the first goal in 11 consecutive playoff games in 1973 to set the NHL mark.

AP-ES-05-10-06 2216EDT