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Hurricanes hope to even home mark against Sabres

by Brian Hunter
SABRES (18-17-4) at HURRICANES (13-21-7)


Last 10:
Buffalo 3-5-2; Carolina 4-3-3

Season Series: Third of four meetings. So far, each team has won once on its opponent's home ice. Jeff Skinner's power-play goal with 1:24 remaining gave the Hurricanes a 4-3 win in Buffalo on Oct. 14, while Jason Pominville's power-play goal and Jhonas Enroth's 34-save performance led the Sabres to a 1-0 victory in Carolina on Nov. 18.

Big Story:
Much was expected of the Sabres this season after their late push to the playoffs and near-elimination of the Flyers in a first-round series last spring, but they're still struggling to find their footing and currently sit 11th in the Eastern Conference standings. The Hurricanes remain in last, but they're starting to pick up points on a more regular basis and could even their record at home by winning Friday.

Team Scope:

In desperate need of a victory after losing six of seven to close out 2011, Buffalo found its tonic in the form of a road-weary Edmonton squad on Tuesday night. Drew Stafford snapped a third-period tie by scoring with 5:26 remaining and Nathan Gerbe added the all-important insurance goal 2:08 later. That was enough as the Sabres hung on for a 4-3 win over the Oilers, who were minus young star Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and on the fifth stop of a seven-game trip.

"We've talked about it enough. Bottom line is guys knew we just needed to go out there and get it done," Stafford said. "It feels good to get those two points. Now, hopefully we can string a few together."

Tuesday night's game against the New York Islanders provided Carolina with a chance to escape the basement, but they let third-period leads of 2-1 and 3-2 slip away and fell 4-3 in a shootout. It looked like Chad LaRose's goal with 4:14 remaining might hold up as the winner, but Kyle Okposo beat Cam Ward with 90 seconds left in regulation. Jussi Jokinen answered PA Parenteau's score in the first round of the penalty-shot tiebreaker, but after Frans Nielsen scored in round two, Eric Staal and LaRose were both turned aside.

"They all hurt. They all sting. But you do what you can with it," defenseman Jay Harrison said. "We should be pretty frustrated and upset with ourselves, and that should drive our next two work days to bring a better, more complete effort."

Who's Hot:
Sabres defenseman Jordan Leopold has 1 goal and 4 assists over his last five games. … Brandon Sutter has 3 goals and 1 assist in his last four games for the Hurricanes.

Injury Report: Buffalo forward Ville Leino (foot), who has missed the last nine games, is skating with the team. He is on injured reserve along with defenseman Tyler Myers (wrist) and forwards Corey Tropp (upper body) and Colin Stuart (lower body). Also, defensemen Andrej Sekera (upper body) and Christian Ehrhoff (upper body) and forward Tyler Ennis (ankle) are out indefinitely. … Carolina forward Patrick Dwyer (upper body) is day-to-day. Defenseman Joni Pitkanen underwent knee surgery earlier this week and is out four weeks. Skinner (concussion) and goalie Brian Boucher (lower body) are on injured reserve.

Stat Pack:
Rookie defenseman Brayden McNabb had a pair of assists Tuesday for the Sabres to record his first career multi-point game. After going scoreless through 11 games, he has 1 goal and 3 assists in his last five contests. … Staal had 2 goals and 3 assists in the two games prior to the Hurricanes' loss to the Islanders to take over the team scoring lead from Skinner by a point -- Staal has played in 11 more games at this point.

Puck Drop:
Pitkanen hasn't played since Dec. 6, and his continued absence figures to mean more minutes for 19-year-old Justin Faulk. Carolina declined to release Faulk to play in the World Junior Championship, reasoning he had become an important part of its blue line, and his 22:06 average time on ice is tops among rookies.
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