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Hurricanes top stumbling Sabres 4-3

by John Kreiser

The Carolina Hurricanes are surging. The Buffalo Sabres are slumping. Both trends continued Friday night.

The 'Canes made it five wins in seven games when Jussi Jokinen scored with 3:17 left in regulation to give Carolina a 4-3 victory over Buffalo. Jokinen fired a stoppable slap shot from the top of the left circle that went past Ryan Miller, handing the Sabres their third consecutive loss.

"I don't know if he saw it all the way," Jokinen said. "I got pretty good wood on it, and it was a big goal for us."

Carolina got a 28-save performance from backup goaltender Manny Legace, who got the start after Cam Ward was sent home for treatment of an upper-body injury. Coach Paul Maurice said Ward, who played in 26 of the previous 27 games after returning from a leg laceration, stiffened up on the team's flight from Calgary to Buffalo following a loss Wednesday night.

Legace got a scare before the game even started -- he was stunned by teammate Aaron Ward's slap shot during pre-game warmups and was down on the ice clutching his upper chest area for a couple of minutes before skating off.

"It probably would have taken a bullet between the eyes to keep me out," said an upbeat Legace, who has been in the crease for only 7 minutes since Dec. 23. "That scared me. It winded me a little bit, but once I caught my breath I knew my windpipe was fine and I was ready to go."

Carolina captain Eric Staal, who had a goal and an assist to extend his points streak to 11 games, could only shake his head after his team ended a brief two-game slide that followed a four-game winning streak.

"It's been one of those seasons," he said. "It was kind of, 'What else is new for us?' But the great thing about the guys in this locker room is that no one has quit and no one has felt sorry for each other. We came in here and beat a pretty good team that's at the top of the conference."

The Hurricanes, who wrap up a four-game, six-day trip Saturday on Long Island, were a lot happier than the struggling Sabres, who've seen their lead over Ottawa in the Northeast Division melt away. It's down to one point after the Sabres' season-worst third consecutive regulation loss.

"I know you face tough stretches," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "My job is to keep everything even keel."

Added Miller: "Everybody's just a little on edge maybe. We should be ready to play. We have to be able to get rid of habits, get rest, and play. There's a lot of hockey left."

The two teams combined for five third-period goals, with Staal giving Carolina a 2-1 lead with his team-leading 20th of the season just 34 seconds into the period.

Drew Stafford tied it 24 seconds later, then gave Buffalo a 3-2 lead at 2:58 when his slap shot from the point bounced high in the air before ricocheting off Legace's back and into the net. But Tom Kostopoulos tied it at 3-3 with 11:37 left, tapping in a pass by Sergei Samsonov

Carolina opened the scoring when Ward scored his first of the season, beating Miller with a low snap shot from the right circle at 13:07. Andrej Sekera with 1:25 to go in the first, scoring his second goal in two games with a slap shot from the point.

Material from team media and wire services was used in this report


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