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Sabres-Hurricanes Preview

Sunday, 05.28.2006 / 7:30 PM

Associated Press

GAME: Buffalo Sabres at Carolina Hurricanes.

PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference finals; series tied at 2.

TIME: Sunday, 7:30 p.m. EDT.

A change in goaltenders helped the Carolina Hurricanes regain home-ice advantage and momentum in the Eastern Conference finals.

The Buffalo Sabres are hoping the return of a veteran defenseman to their depleted blue line corps will provide a boost of its own as the teams resume their series in a pivotal Game 5 at the RBC Center.

Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette made the switch back to Martin Gerber in net, and the Swiss Olympian responded with a 22-save effort in a 4-0 victory that evened the series. Gerber, who had not started since a disastrous showing April 24 in Game 2 of Carolina's quarterfinal series against Montreal, stopped 11 first-period shots to give his team a lift.

"We were going down a road that I didn't want to go down, trying to change the game, last game," said Laviolette about the switch. "Martin Gerber set a career - sorry, a franchise record for wins this season for the Carolina Hurricanes and had a tremendous year, and he came into the playoffs sick; he was light about eight pounds from a flu.

"I just had a feeling watching him come into New Jersey and come in the last game against Buffalo, the way he's been practicing, that he's looked really sharp. So he came in and he was rock solid."

Gerber made his best save on Chris Drury, using his glove to deny the Sabres center on a breakaway. He also stopped J.P. Dumont twice in the opening six minutes of a scoreless game.

"I was kind of thinking, he's going to go back kind of around and I don't know, just reflections - you don't see it, sometimes it happens," Gerber said about the save on Drury before noting about the first period, "it was nice to start like that, you felt in the game right away, then we scored some big goals."

While Gerber provided a calming effect for the Hurricanes, his defense helped him out greatly on penalty kills, limiting the Sabres to one shot in four power-play opportunities.

"I think we were trying to push them hard," Laviolette said. "I just think that that adjustment stopping and starting and going back, because a lot of times it was D to D and down through a seam. I just think it's important to get back into that seam and try to eliminate those passes."

Throughout the playoffs, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff adamantly refused to let his team make excuses as top defensemen Teppo Numminen, Dmitri Kalinin and Henrik Tallinder all suffered from to injuries. But there is no debate whether Numminen's return will be a welcome addition.

Numminen had missed the past three games with a groin injury suffered in Game 1, but the 17-year veteran was able to skate well at practice Saturday and finally able to accelerate and push off well enough to make himself available for this game.

"It's the first time the leg feels strong, I could kick with it. Yeah, it feels better," said Numminen. "We're getting closer. We just have to see how it reacts now and hopefully it gets even better."

Veteran Hurricanes forward Mark Recchi knows Numminen will make Buffalo's defense a more cohesive unit.

"His presence is going to mean a lot to that hockey club," Recchi said. "He's a great player, who's very calm back there. He'll be a calming influence."

The series will return to Buffalo for Game 6 on Tuesday.

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Sabres - 110 points; 4th seed; beat Philadelphia Flyers 4-2, quarterfinals; beat Ottawa Senators 4-1, semifinals. Hurricanes - 112 points; 2nd seed; beat Montreal Canadiens 4-2, quarterfinals; beat New Jersey Devils 4-1, semifinals.

PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Sabres - Drury, 8 goals; Briere, 10 assists and 17 points; Jay McKee, 26 PIM. Hurricanes - Rod Brind'Amour and Eric Staal, 7 goals; Staal, 12 assists and 19 points; Mike Commodore, 25 PIM.

PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Sabres - Power play: 17.4 percent (15 for 86). Penalty killing: 83.1 percent (64 for 77). Hurricanes - Power play: 27.1 percent (19 for 70). Penalty killing: 82.3 percent (65 for 79).

GOALTENDERS: Sabres - Ryan Miller (10-5, 1 SO, 2.51 GAA); Martin Biron (no appearances). Hurricanes - Gerber (1-1, 1, 3.00); Ward (9-4, 1, 2.23).

2005-2006 season series
DateScoreW. Goal
Jun 01 '06BUF 2 at CAR 4R. Brind'Amour
May 30 '06CAR 1 at BUF 2 - OTD. Briere
May 28 '06BUF 3 at CAR 4 - OTC. Stillman
May 26 '06CAR 4 at BUF 0M. Recchi
May 24 '06CAR 3 at BUF 4A. Kotalik
May 22 '06BUF 3 at CAR 4J. Williams
May 20 '06BUF 3 at CAR 2J. McKee
PlayerGPGAP+/-PIMPPGW
GoalieGPRec.GASAGAASv%
PlayerGPGAP+/-PIMPPGW
GoalieGPRec.GASAGAASv%