RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The Carolina Hurricanes looked little like the team that set a franchise record for wins and spent most of the season near the top of the NHL standings.
They did just enough to pull within a victory of the Stanley Cup finals.
Cory Stillman corralled a loose puck and slid it between Ryan Miller's pads for a power-play goal 8:46 into overtime, giving the Hurricanes a 4-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday night.
Stillman also had an assist for the Hurricanes, who took a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. Carolina, which won 4-0 on the road in Game 4 to tie the series, can advance to its second Cup finals in four years by winning Tuesday at Buffalo.
"We didn't want to go down there being down 3-2," Stillman said. "We're excited. We're going back and we want to finish it there in Buffalo."
The Hurricanes became the first team to win consecutive games in the series that will provide the opponent for the Western Conference champion Edmonton Oilers. And they did it despite playing what captain Rod Brind'Amour said "felt like one of our worst games of the series."
The Hurricanes fell behind by two goals and had to pull starting goaltender Martin Gerber in favor of rookie Cam Ward. They struggled at times clearing the puck from their own end, looked shaky on defense and managed only one shot in the third period.
Still, the Hurricanes found a way to win thanks to contributions throughout the lineup.
Ward turned in more than 46 shutout minutes to earn the win in relief, stopping all 15 shots he faced after Gerber made only eight saves on 11 shots. Carolina's special teams also had the edge, scoring a pair of power-play goals while holding the Sabres to 0-for-4 with the man advantage.
Carolina capped it with Stillman's seventh goal of the playoffs, set up by a ricocheted shot off the boards behind the net.
"It's the way hockey goes," said Brind'Amour, who scored on the power play in the second period to tie it at 3. "When you're not at your best, you need every little thing on the outside to kind of be good."
Justin Williams and Mark Recchi also scored for Carolina, and Eric Staal had an assist to push his playoff point streak to 15 games.
Carolina sent Buffalo to the brink of elimination with its second power-play goal, getting the man advantage when J.P. Dumont hooked Matt Cullen along the boards. Cullen then fired a shot from the left side that appeared to hit a Sabres player and bounce off the boards behind the net.
The puck slid by Ray Whitney before making its way to Stillman, who pushed a shot past Miller to end it.
"It's almost like a pass when it hit the end boards and comes out," Stillman said. "It came out flat and you can one-time it. It found a way through."
Chris Drury, Derek Roy and Toni Lydman each scored for the Sabres, who couldn't hold a two-goal lead in the second period and now trail in a series for the first time in the playoffs. The Sabres had several chances late in this one, but Ward stopped Maxim Afinogenov on a breakaway with about 4 minutes left in regulation to preserve the tie.
Buffalo also started overtime on a power play while Carolina defenseman Bret Hedican served the final 1:19 of his hooking infraction that carried over from the third period.
It was a strong bounce-back effort for the Sabres, who came off the shutout loss at home and were missing three regular defensemen. It just didn't amount to a win.
"I think that it's nothing to get discouraged about with the effort we got tonight," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "I thought for the most part we carried the play. The second half of the game we had all the chances and we could have won it several times. We didn't, and we get a tough call that leads to a crazy bounce and end up with a goal against."
Buffalo managed the first goal to silence the rowdy home crowd, with Drury taking a long pass from Taylor Pyatt and beating Gerber on a breakaway midway through the period. But Buffalo - in a familiar trend for both teams in the series - couldn't sustain that momentum, giving up a tying goal when Stillman found Williams 17 seconds later to get the fans right back into it.
Then, after Roy and Lydman gave the Sabres a 3-1 lead early in the second, the Hurricanes fought back on Recchi's short put-away off a feed from Doug Weight, and Brind'Amour's shot past Miller to tie it again heading into the third.
"We've got to keep our heads up," Buffalo defenseman Jay McKee said. "We expected it to be this hard. We've got a game back home where we can force a Game 7 where anything can happen."
Notes: Staal has seven goals and 13 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. ... Stillman's assist on Williams' first-period goal pushed his point streak to six games. ... The Sabres were again without C Tim Connolly, who hasn't played since sustaining a concussion in the second round against Ottawa. They were also without D Teppo Numminen, who said Saturday he expected to play for the first time since hurting his groin in the first period of Game 1 of this series. ... Lydman's goal was his first of the playoffs.
Other games on May 28, 2006