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Hurricanes-Sabres Preview

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GAME: Carolina Hurricanes at Buffalo Sabres.

PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference finals; Hurricanes 3-2.

TIME: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. EDT.

Goaltender management has been key to the Carolina Hurricanes moving within one game of the Stanley Cup finals.

Coach Peter Laviolette again will switch goalies, turning to rookie Cam Ward, as Carolina looks to close out the Buffalo Sabres in Game 6 on the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday at the HSBC Arena.

The Hurricanes coach tried to ride the momentum of Martin Gerber's Game 4 shutout into Sunday's game, but the veteran could not string together solid outings after allowing three goals in 11 shots over barely more than one period.

Laviolette turned to Ward, who became the hero of Carolina's playoff run after helping the Hurricanes erase a 2-0 series deficit in the quarterfinals. The rookie responded by stopping all 15 shots he faced in the final 46:33, including one on a breakaway by Maxim Afinogenov, and also helped the Hurricanes kill off an overtime penalty before Cory Stillman scored the winning goal in a 4-3 victory.

"I told you guys before the last time that I didn't think Cam played poorly," Laviolette said. "I thought he played well. I guess I had a hunch about Marty in Game 4 and he played extremely well, and just to try and not change it, but change the game at that point because it wasn't going our way."

After being on both ends of relieving and starting in this series, Ward knows he has to be ready at a moment's notice.

"You do come in cold, but you definitely feed off the atmosphere," Ward said. "Once again, our home crowd was tremendous and this is the time of year that you're going to get the goose bumps and the excitement, the adrenaline pumping. So, there's no real excuses.

"The beauty about the playoffs is you just never know. You've got to be ready."

For the second straight game, Carolina's penalty killers also played a pivotal role. The Sabres were 0-for-4 with the man advantage, including the first 1:19 of the extra period while Bret Hedican served a hooking penalty carried over from the end of regulation.

"That penalty kill right off the hop in overtime, and I mean that's the game right there, and (Ward) makes the big save and it enables us to keep plowing along," said Hurricanes center Rod Brind'Amour, who tied the game with 9:56 left in regulation. "We get guys that just seem to step up. A lot of times it's a different guy every night, but we have got a lot of guys that have just done the job this year."

Stillman's winning goal came off a fluke bounce off the boards, and he quickly fired a shot between Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller's pads to give Carolina its first series lead.

"It's almost like a pass when it hit the end boards and comes out. It came out flat and you can one-time it," Stillman said. "I got a whack at it and put it in through his five hole."

Despite the loss and facing elimination, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff feels Carolina is the one under pressure.

"Oh, you'd hate to lose Game 6 and have to play Game 7," Ruff said. "You'd never want to get in that situation because in one game, anything can happen."

Chris Drury scored for the third time in four games for the Sabres, who were 5-for-17 on the power play in the first three games of the series before their current drought.

Hurricanes center Eric Staal, who assisted on Brind'Amour's goal, has seven goals and 13 assists in a 14-game postseason points streak. It is the longest playoff streak since Pavel Bure had a 16-game streak in helping the Vancouver Canucks reach the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals.

If the Hurricanes win, they will host the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Edmonton Oilers. If the Sabres avoid elimination, the series will return to Raleigh, N.C., for a decisive Game 7 on Thursday.

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Hurricanes - 2nd seed; beat Montreal Canadiens 4-2, quarterfinals; beat New Jersey Devils 4-1, semifinals. Sabres - 4th seed; beat Philadelphia Flyers 4-2, quarterfinals; beat Ottawa Senators 4-1; semifinals.

PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Hurricanes - Brind'Amour, 8 goals; Staal, 13 assists and 20 points; Justin Williams, 28 PIM. Sabres - Drury, 9 goals; Daniel Briere, 10 assists; Drury and Briere, 17 points; Jay McKee, 28 PIM.

PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Hurricanes - Power play: 27.3 percent (21-for-77). Penalty killing: 83.1 percent (69-for-83). Sabres - Power play: 16.7 percent (15-for-90). Penalty killing: 82.1 percent (69-for-84).

GOALTENDERS: Hurricanes - Ward (10-4, 1 SO, 2.09 GAA); Gerber (1-1, 1, 3.53). Sabres - Miller (10-6, 1, 2.58); Martin Biron (no appearances).

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