Sabres weather storm, escape with 4-3 win
Carolina's late flurry not enough as Buffalo takes a 2-1 series lead

By John Wawrow

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - Daniel Briere felt bad enough already and didn't need Sabres coach Lindy Ruff reminding him and his linemates how poorly they played at Carolina.

Buffalo's co-captain quickly made up for it, scoring twice in a 4-3 win over the Hurricanes on Wednesday night that gave the Sabres a 2-1 edge in the Eastern Conference finals.

"We knew we didn't do the job," Briere said, referring to Buffalo's 4-3 loss in Game 2 on Monday. "We knew we had to improve our play. ... We knew we had to make a bigger difference and we did."

Ruff's reminder came during a brief meeting at mid-ice following the Sabres practice on Tuesday. The coach was unhappy after Briere's line combined for two shots in the defeat.

"Everybody thinks it's Lindy," added J.P. Dumont, who assisted on both of Briere's goals. "But we've got character on our line. We didn't need that meeting. It just rang the bell a little bit."

Ales Kotalik had a goal and assist, and Chris Drury also scored in helping Buffalo score 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 when he fired a shot in from inside the blue line after Carolina's Mike Commodore was called for holding the stick of defenseman Toni Lydman.

The win didn't come easy in a series in which all three games have been decided by one goal.

Eric Staal cut the 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.

"We continued to work hard," Staal said. "We had our chances. There were a couple of blocks there at the end and Miller made some big saves and it just wasn't enough."

Buffalo Sabres center Daniel Briere (48) shoots the puck past Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward (30) during the second period of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference hockey finals in Buffalo, N.Y. on Wednesday, May 24, 2006.  (AP Photo/Don Heupel)

Game 4 of the best-of-seven series is Friday at Buffalo

Stillman scored twice for Carolina, which failed to carry over the momentum of the Game 2 victory. Things became so bad that rookie goalie Cam Ward was pulled in favor of backup Martin Gerber after giving up four goals on 26 shots.

Ward wasn't the problem.

"We were in the box the whole time," Stillman said. "And when we're doing that, we're not going after people."

"We were going to the penalty box and they were making some big plays," Commodore added. "I don't know if they caught us off-guard, but it was the difference in the game."

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.

Tallinder, who left with about 6 minutes remaining, is day to day with an upper body injury.

The Sabres' rally began late in the first period when Drury, from in front, tipped in Kotalik's point shot to tie it at 1 with a power-play goal.

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.

Carolina coach Peter Laviolette didn't fault Ward, saying he was instead looking for a way to spark his team. Laviolette, however, didn't say which goalie would start Friday. The Hurricanes coach is usually reluctant to reveal his lineup in advance.

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 five minutes into the third.


... 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.

... The Sabres are 6-2 in their last eight playoff games - all decided by one goal.

 ... Sabres C Jiri Novotny played in place of LW Thomas Vanek.

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