Sun, May 28, 2006 - Page 24 News List

Hurricanes, Sabres tied up after Game 4

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , BUFFALO

The Carolina Hurricanes and the Buffalo Sabres faced uncertainty entering Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night.

After losing two of the first three games of the series, the Hurricanes -- who earlier in the day learned that their most inspirational player, Erik Cole, would not return this season -- also had a budding goaltender controversy. The Sabres were down to three of the top six defensemen they had when the playoffs began.

The goalie switch seemed to inspire the Hurricanes, who coasted to a 4-0 victory. Martin Gerber made 22 saves for his first career playoff shutout.

The loss of another defenseman obviously did not help the Sabres, and Carolina reclaimed the home-ice advantage in the best-of-seven series, which is tied at 2-2.

Game 5 is Sunday in Raleigh, North Carolina.

"As players, we don't really care who's in the net -- as long as he stops the puck," Carolina left wing Cory Stillman said.

Gerber, who was the No. 1 goalie most of the season, set a franchise record with 38 victories. He was making his first start since the rookie Cam Ward replaced him after Game 2 of Carolina's first-round series with Montreal.

"It's not like we brought in a guy from the minor leagues or a backup per se," coach Peter Laviolette said of his decision to start Gerber.

Gerber was fighting a stomach ailment when the playoffs began and lost about 10 pounds. "I don't want to use it as an excuse," he said, adding: "It's never fun to be watching, but Cam was playing great. He was unbelievably hot."

Buffalo was playing without Henrik Tallinder, who has been its best defenseman during the playoffs. Tallinder is out for the rest of the season after breaking his left wrist late in Game 3. Teppo Numminen (groin) and Dmitri Kalinin (broken ankle) were also in street clothes.

That forced the Sabres to use Doug Janik and Jeff Jillson, defensemen who had spent most of the season in the minor leagues. Through two periods, Jillson was on the ice for two goals and Janik for one as the Hurricanes took a 3-0 lead.

"I actually thought our defense played reasonably well for us," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "I didn't think defense was the issue."

Mark Recchi opened the scoring 6 minutes 54 seconds into the first period on a double deflection of a shot by Frantisek Kaberle. Eric Staal gave Carolina a 2-0 lead on the power play at 9:53, on only its fourth shot.

Staal's goal, his seventh of the playoffs, extended his franchise-record streak of recording at least a point to 14 games, the longest in the postseason since Pavel Bure's 16-game streak for Vancouver in 1994.

Staal, who leads the NHL with 19 points this postseason, is four games shy of Bryan Trottier's single-season playoff record of 18 games with the 1981 Islanders.

Andrew Ladd scored in the second period, and Bret Hedican added a goal in the third.

If the Hurricanes reach the Stanley Cup finals, they will do so without Cole, who sustained a broken neck March 4. Cole practiced with the team earlier this week and had a C.T. scan Thursday.

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