BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Martin Gerber was rested, ready and relieved to make the most of his second chance in the playoffs.
Now the Hurricanes believe they've regained the momentum in the Eastern Conference finals against the banged-up Buffalo Sabres.
Gerber stopped 22 shots to register his first career postseason shutout and victory in a 4-0 win Friday night that enabled the Hurricanes to tie the series at 2.
It was Gerber's first start in a month, more than enough time to recover from a flu bug that contributed to his poor play to open the playoffs. That's when he allowed nine goals in two starts and lost his starting job to rookie Cam Ward.
"It's never fun when you're watching," Gerber said. "You've just got to be patient, keep working hard and wait for your chance."
Gerber was sharp, stopping 11 shots in the first period, including foiling J.P. Dumont twice from in close during the opening 6 minutes and then getting his glove hand up to rob Chris Drury, who got in alone.
It was a carry-over from Game 3 on Wednesday when Gerber stopped all seven shots he faced in replacing Ward, who was pulled after allowing four goals on 26 shots in a 4-3 loss.
The Hurricanes offense did the rest, building a a 2-0 lead 9:53 into the game.
"It was huge," Mark Recchi said of Gerber's play. "Marty did it all year for us. We know he was sick before, and he might not use it as an excuse. ... But we had no doubts that he was going to play the way he did tonight. No question marks whatsoever."
Bret Hedican had a goal and assist, and Eric Staal scored to extend his point streak to 14 games. Recchi and Andrew Ladd also scored for Carolina.
Carolina took advantage of an injury-depleted Sabres team that's down three regular defensemen after Henrik Tallinder broke his left arm on Wednesday. With Teppo Numminen (groin) and Dmitri Kalinin (ankle) also out, Buffalo was forced to go with Jeff Jillson and Doug Janik, who entered the game with a combined six playoff appearances and only two this year.
The best-of-seven series shifts to Raleigh for Game 5 on Sunday with Game 6 back in Buffalo on Tuesday. Carolina was the first team in the series to win by more than one goal, and the margin of defeat was the Sabres' worst in the playoffs since a 5-1 loss to Montreal in 1991.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff refused to blame injuries or an inexperienced defense on the loss, instead focusing on his forwards' lack of finishing ability and a power play that went 0-for-4.
"Everybody's pointing at it as if we can use it as an excuse," Ruff said. "If we're going to win, we've got to do better on our special teams, and our forwards have got to do better."
Jillson had a particularly difficult outing as he was on for three Hurricanes goals, including the opener 7 minutes in when he turned over the puck behind his net. Carolina worked it around to Frantisek Kaberle, whose point shot was deflected by Recchi and then appeared to glance off Jillson's skate. The puck then dribbled through goaltender Ryan Miller's legs.
Jillson and Janik were then outmatched on Ladd's goal 2 minutes into the second period. Both were caught flat-footed, allowing the rookie to drive to the net untouched and convert a rebound after Miller stopped Doug Weight's shot from the right circle.
"Nobody should be beating themselves up," Miller said. "We should hold ourselves accountable, myself included."
The Hurricanes weren't making any apologies for exploiting the worn-down Sabres.
"No question about it, it's part of our game plan," Hedican said of the Hurricanes' intent to force the puck deep. "I think the playoffs are tough and grueling, and no question about it, they've got some defense that are out of the lineup and that's something that we had to take advantage of."
Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette made the decision to go with Gerber after the goalie's effort in Game 3, in which he stopped three breakaways, looking much like the player that went 38-14-6 in the regular season.
Notes: Staal has seven goals and 12 assists during his point streak, the NHL's longest in the postseason since Pavel Bure went 16 straight games for Vancouver in 1994. Staal is four short of the record set by New York Islanders forward Bryan Trottier in 1981. ... Arturs Irbe registered Carolina's previous road shutout, a 3-0 win at Toronto in Game 4 of the 2002 Eastern Conference finals. ... The Sabres ended a string of eight games decided by one goal, matching the longest streak in playoff history, set by Montreal in 1989 and matched by Anaheim in 2003.
Other games on May 26, 2006