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Hurricanes face Sabres, hope to inch closer in East

by Brian Hunter
SABRES (38-22-10) at HURRICANES (30-33-8)

Last 10: Buffalo 5-4-1; Carolina 6-3-1

Season series:
Fourth and final meeting of the regular season. Buffalo won the first matchup back in November, but a resurgent Carolina team captured a pair of 4-3 decisions in a seven-day span in February. Sergei Samsonov scored in overtime of the most recent game. Derek Roy of the Sabres leads all scorers with three goals. Manny Legace has won both his starts for the Hurricanes.

Big story:
Don't look now, but by the end of play Sunday it's possible Carolina -- which spent much of the season at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings -- could find itself in sole possession of 11th and within four points of a playoff berth. The Hurricanes would need to win and have teams like the Bruins, Thrashers and Lightning all lose … but crazier things have happened, right?

Team Scope:

Sabres: This marks the conclusion of a five-game road trip for Buffalo that didn't start particularly well but picked up nicely during a stop through Florida. The Sabres rebounded from a couple of losses to start their journey by routing the Lightning 6-2 on Thursday and picking up a 3-1 victory over the Panthers on Saturday. They've opened up a seven-point lead over the reeling Senators in the Northeast Division and still have two games in hand.

"We're going to have to use everybody," coach Lindy Ruff told the Buffalo News about playing the second of a back-to-back situation. "It's going to have to be a four-line game. It's going to have to be a game where you don't beat yourself. ... It's a tough turnaround, but we've done it before."

Hurricanes: In the days leading up to the trade deadline, Carolina sent a number of veteran players packing. It seemed as though the Hurricanes were waving the white flag despite going on their best run of the season leading up to the Olympics. They continued to excel after the break, and some of the younger players have been front and center. On Saturday afternoon, rookie goalie Justin Peters earned the win when defenseman Jamie McBain -- playing just his third NHL game -- scored his first career goal with 0.9 seconds left in overtime for a 3-2 win over the defending Stanley Cup champions.

"You dream about it happening since you were a little kid and for it to be this kind of game, this kind of atmosphere, going against one of the top teams in the League and an overtime winner with not much time left, it's a pretty special feeling," McBain said.

Who's hot:
Jochen Hecht has three goals and four assists for the Sabres in his last seven games. Jason Pominville had five goals and four assists during a five-game points streak that came to an end Saturday. Ryan Miller is 5-0-1 in his last six decisions.

Joni Pitkanen has a goal and three assists for the Hurricanes in his last two games. McBain has registered at least a point in all three games since his recall, notching a goal and three assists. Peters is 6-2-0 in eight games with a 2.48 goals-against average and .916 save percentage. He's also 3-0 in overtime games.

Injury report:
Legace left Carolina's game midway through the second period Saturday with an injury to his left leg. Goalie Cam Ward is already out indefinitely due to back problems. Defenseman Tim Gleason is expected to miss three weeks with a broken foot. Defenseman Alexandre Picard is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury.

Stat pack:
Buffalo and Los Angeles remain the only NHL teams to have won every game they have led after two periods. … McBain recorded an overtime point for the second consecutive game, having assisted on Ray Whitney's game-winner against Washington on Thursday.

Puck drop: With the way some of the teams ahead of them are struggling, it's hardly inconceivable that the Hurricanes could accomplish what the St. Louis Blues pulled off in the Western Conference last season -- ascend all the way from last place into the top eight.

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