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HURRICANES (1-2-1) at SABRES (2-0-0)
TV: NHLN-CANADA, FS-Carolinas (HD), MSG-B
Season Series: It's the first of four meetings between the teams this season. The Sabres and Hurricanes split their games last season, with all four decided by one goal.
Big Story: After kicking off the regular season in Europe with victories over the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings, the Sabres can expect a tumultuous welcome as they return to Western New York for their home opener at the renamed First Niagara Center. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, are coming off their first win of the season -- a 3-2 home win over the defending champion Boston Bruins. This is the first of a four-game trip for the 'Canes.
Hurricanes: Carolina was still in search of its first win of 2011-12 when the reigning Stanley Cup champions invaded the RBC Center on Wednesday night. Cam Ward, who guided the Canes to their only Stanley Cup championship back in 2005-06, found a way to give his team the jolt it needed to break the ice on the new season. Ward stopped 26 shots and Carolina got third-period goals by Anthony Stewart and Jiri Tlusty to hold off the Bruins for their first win in four games.
With a four-game trip coming up, Ward knew the 'Canes desperately needed a win.
“We're talking about the fourth game of the year, but we did treat it like a must-win game,” Ward said. “It's important that we get a win and feel good about ourselves and know what it's like to win hockey games. We can build from a game like this. There are a lot of great positives that you can take away from it.”
Sabres: The Sabres are used to getting strong goaltending from Ryan Miller -- and they got it during their wins against Anaheim and Los Angeles in Europe, with Miller allowing just three goals. The good news was that the offense generated eight goals -- four in each game.
Thomas Vanek set the tone with two goals in Buffalo’s season-opening 4-1 win in Helsinki, and rookie Luke Adam scored twice in a 2:20 span to pace Buffalo to a 4-2 win over Los Angeles in Berlin to complete an impressive sweep.
Coach Lindy Ruff was impressed by his team’s balanced effort in both games, but knows his team must get back to the basics in order to carry over the positive momentum to its home opener in Buffalo.
“One thing we’ve talked about as a team is to wrap our arms around everything that’s going on and embrace it, but at the same time, we have to be a team that wants to continue to get better from night to night,” Ruff said. “At the end of the year, we want to improve on our numbers. The attention to detail in the two games overseas was good, but we can’t play a different game when we get back home. We need to play a game where we’re paying attention to our system and how we play, and the score will take care of itself.
Who's Hot: Vanek paced Buffalo’s power-play attack during the team’s trip to Europe, notching two goals with the extra man and five points overall in two games. … Last year’s Calder Trophy recipient, Jeff Skinner, has shown no signs of a sophomore slump early on this season. The 19-year-old forward has five points in four games.
Injury Report: Buffalo forward Jochen Hecht (head) remains questionable. … The Hurricanes are healthy.
Stat Pack: Stewart (26 games) and Tlusty (20 games) both ended lengthy dry spells by scoring against Boston. Carolina surrendered five power-play goals in 13 tries before holding Boston scoreless on five tries. … The Sabres haven't won their first three games since opening the 2008-09 season by going 4-0-0.
Puck Drop: With new owner Terry Pegula providing the kind of financial resources the Sabres haven't had, expectations are high in Buffalo. The two-game sweep in the Compuware NHL Premiere series has only whetted the fans' appetites for the Stanley Cup the Sabres haven't been able to win since entering the NHL in 1970.
The players were glad to get a few days off to get re-accustomed to the time differential.
“It’s not easy coming back [from Europe] with the time change and it wasn’t easy going over there, but now we’re fine after some days to rest up,” captain Jason Pominville said. “There’s a lot more buzz around the city and around this team. We have to keep our composure and keep doing the things that made us successful in Europe.”