Sabres cut it close against Hurricanes

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) – Daniel Briere scored twice and the Buffalo Sabres hung on for a 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday night.

Ales Kotalik had a goal and assist, and Chris Drury also scored to give the Sabres a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals series. Buffalo rallied with four consecutive goals to take a 4-1 lead 13 minutes into the second period, taking advantage of Carolina’s lack of discipline.

Buffalo converted two of seven power-play chances, while Kotalik’s eventual winner came on a delayed penalty.

Eric Staal cut Buffalo’s lead to 4-3 with 4:08 remaining, but Buffalo weathered the final flurry in which Carolina outshot the Sabres 11-4 in the third period and 3-0 in the last 2 minutes.

Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller stopped Ray Whitney in the slot with 13 seconds remaining and Sabres rookie Jason Pominville got his skate out to block the Hurricanes’ final shot, Matt Cullen’s slapper from the top of the left circle.

Cory Stillman scored twice for Carolina, which appeared to grab the momentum in the series following a 4-3 win in North Carolina on Monday. The Hurricanes failed to follow through, and things became so bad that rookie Cam Ward was pulled in favor of backup Martin Gerber after giving up four goals on 26 shots.

Game 4 of the best-of-seven series is Friday at Buffalo. All three games have been decided by one goal. The Sabres rebounded from their worst performance of the postseason with one of their best and they did it without steady defenseman Teppo Numminen, who missed his second straight game with a lower body injury. Buffalo then lost another defenseman, Henrik Tallinder, during the win.

Wednesday’s game turned late in the first period, a half-minute after Hurricanes captain Rod Brind’Amour was penalized for hooking Jiri Novotny away from the play. The Sabres capitalized when Drury, from in front, tipped in Kotalik’s point shot to tie it at 1.

Buffalo didn’t let up, and Briere scored the go-ahead goal – converting Jochen Hecht’s rebound in front – a minute into the second on another power play.

with Doug Weight in the penalty box for hooking.

Briere made it 3-1 on a partial break at 8:28 of the second period, and Kotalik scored 4 minutes later, firing in a 40-footer that beat a screened Ward.

Ward, who took over the starting duties after the Hurricanes lost the opening two games of their first-round series to Montreal, could hardly be faulted. He got little help in front as Carolina failed to clog the middle of the ice as it did so well in Game 2.

Gerber stopped seven shots and was sharp in keeping the game close. He stopped Mike Grier and Derek Roy on short-handed breakaways shortly after he entered the game. Gerber then made a strong save in foiling Maxim Afinogenov on a breakaway 5 minutes into the third.

Notes: Staal extended his point streak to 13 games (six goals, 12 assists). That’s five games short of matching the NHL playoff record set by New York Islanders Bryan Trottier in 1981, and the longest since Pavel Bure had a point in 16 straight games for Vancouver in 1994. … After both coaches accused the other team’s players of diving following Game 2, the first penalty issued was a diving call against Buffalo’s Derek Roy. He appeared to embellish a mid-ice collision with Carolina’s Mark Recchi, who was also penalized for interference. … Buffalo shook up its lineup with C Novotny in for LW Thomas Vanek, and D Jeff Jillson taking over for Doug Janik, who played in Game 2. Jillson appeared in only two games for Buffalo in the regular season and made his first playoff appearance since playing four games as a rookie with San Jose in 2002. … NHL commissioner Gary Bettman attended the game, lauding Sabres owner B. Thomas Golisano, who rescued the team from bankruptcy in 2003.

AP-ES-05-24-06 2223EDT

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