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Hurricanes go for four in a row, sweep of Sabres

by Brian Hunter

SABRES (9-12-2) at HURRICANES (12-8-1)


Last 10: Buffalo 4-5-1; Carolina 6-4-0

Season series: Third and final meeting of the regular season. The Hurricanes will try to complete the season sweep, after taking a home-and-home from the Sabres in the season's opening week. Eric Staal had the hat trick in a 6-3 win in Carolina on Jan. 24, while Dan Ellis made 40 saves to spur a 3-1 victory the following night in Buffalo.

Big story: The Hurricanes lead the Southeast Division while the Sabres are last in the Northeast, but only five points actually separate these teams in the standings. Carolina comes off a home-and-home sweep of rival Florida over the weekend, but Cam Ward had to leave Sunday's game with what was diagnosed Monday as an MCL sprain and will miss 6-8 weeks.

Team Scope:

Sabres: Chasing a fourth consecutive win, Buffalo went to the shootout for the third game in a row on Sunday at Madison Square Garden. The third time wasn't the charm, as the Rangers dealt the Sabres a 3-2 setback, but the team is slowly climbing the standings since Ron Rolston took over as interim coach. A five-minute major to Patrick Kaleta in the third period for checking from behind turned the tide, as New York scored twice in 43 seconds to take a 2-1 lead, but the Sabres earned the point on the strength of Nathan Gerbe's shorthanded goal near the end of that penalty.

"We keep getting points in games, and that's what matters," Gerbe told The Buffalo News.

Hurricanes: This is the start of a three-game homestand for Carolina, which has scored 13 goals during its current three-game win streak. A quick burst near the end of the first period Sunday night sent the Hurricanes on their way to a 3-2 win over the Panthers, as Justin Faulk and Alexander Semin scored goals a minute apart. Jordan Staal extended the lead to 3-0 in the middle period, and after Ward had to leave due to injury Ellis stopped 19 of 21 shots in relief despite playing with the flu.

"Considering our record against the Southeast coming into this wasn't very good (0-5-0 prior to Saturday), we knew we needed to get some points to get some separation and to really get ahead in the game," Staal said. "It was a big weekend. A lot of guys chipped in to help us win this one."

Who's hot: Steve Ott set up Gerbe's game-tying goal Sunday and has four assists in the Sabres' past three games. Ryan Miller is on a 3-0-1 run with a .932 save percentage during that stretch. … Semin has two goals and seven assists in the Hurricanes' past five games. Eric Staal has three goals and three assists during a three-game points streak. Jiri Tlusty has three goals and two assists during a three-game points streak.

Injury report: Buffalo forward Thomas Vanek missed a pair of games over the weekend with an upper-body injury. Defensemen Jordan Leopold (upper body) and Alexander Sulzer (lower body) and forward Ville Leino (hip) are on injured reserve. … Ward is out long-term for Carolina. Defenseman Joni Pitkanen and forward Tim Brent missed Sunday's game with lower-body injuries. Forward Tuomo Ruutu (hip) is on injured reserve.

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