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Sabres aim to keep 'Canes winless on the road

by Brian Schiazza /

HURRICANES (5-15-5) at SABRES (13-7-2)

Last 10 - Carolina 3-5-2; Buffalo 4-5-1

Season series -- This is the first meeting of the season between the clubs. Last season, the teams split the four-game season series, with each team winning once at home. Carolina leads the all-time series 35-14-6-1 since moving from Hartford, including 17-8-3 at home and 18-6-3-1 on the road.

Big story -- The Sabres are on the road to recovery after a bruising 4-2 win over the always-dangerous Flyers on Friday ended a four-game winless streak. A four-point outburst from Tim Connolly helped Buffalo move to within a point of the Northeast Division lead behind Boston and Ottawa. The Sabres hope their offense re-awakens further against a Carolina team that is last in the East as they claw their way back up the Conference. The Hurricanes have won three of their last seven games after enduring a dreary 14-game winless streak. Carolina remains the only NHL club that is winless on the road in 2009-10, with a 0-9-3 mark away from the RBCCenter.

Team Scope:

Hurricanes -- The 'Canes failed to make it four straight at home on Friday with a 6-4 loss to the Thrashers. Things were looking good heading into the third period, with Carolina ahead 4-1 on goals by Erik Cole, Stephane Yelle, Sergei Samsonov and Matt Cullen. But Atlanta scored five goals and outshot the 'Canes 14-9 in the final 20 minutes.

"Maybe they felt it was a nice comfortable game," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said of his players after the loss to the Thrashers. "They were getting lots of chances and then decided the back half of the game wasn't too important to them in the third."

Sabres - Before Friday, Buffalo had not won since defeating the Flyers 3-2 at Philadelphia on Nov. 14 and now sits alone in the Eastern Conference's sixth seed with 28 points. An offense that has not produced has the team relying on the Vezina-caliber performances of Ryan Miller in net. It's difficult to see how Sabres would fare this season without Miller, who has allowed three or more goals just four times in 19 games this season, and has an NHL-best 1.98 goals against average.

Who's hot -- Experiencing good health this season has been beneficial for Tim Connolly; he has not gone more than three games without scoring at least one point. Connolly had an explosive game against the Flyers, with 2 assists and 2 goals, including one off a laser of a wrist shot that complements his world-class stick-handling skills. … After being shelved for nearly a month with an upper body injury, Hurricanes center Eric Staal has two points in his first two games back in a lineup hungry for production. Forward Jussi Jokinen is the only Carolina player with at least one point in each of the team's wins this season.

Injury report -- Now that Staal has returned from a 10-game absence, the Hurricanes hope that goaltender Cam Ward is able to recover sooner rather than later from a leg laceration. Ward's backup, Michael Leighton is battling groin problems, leaving the crease to Manny Legace for six straight games. Defenseman Joni Pitkanen is questionable for Saturday; the defensemen left Friday night's game after the second period with an upper-body injury. Carolina also has forward Scott Walker out indefinitely with an upper-body injury, while Casey Borer (neck) and Michael Ryan (concussion) remain sidelined. Meanwhile, just after the Sabres had returned to full strength Wednesday with the return of Mike Grier, both captain Craig Rivet (lower body) and checking center Paul Gaustad (undisclosed) went down in Friday's game with the Flyers. Their status is uncertain.

Stat pack -- Buffalo has not lost when leading after two periods, playing a tight game that has only seen them average 2.54 goals per game, 23rd in the NHL. Goals are even harder to come by for Carolina, which is last in the NHL in goals per game with 2.14, but were able to put four in their last meeting with Atlanta Friday night.

Puck drop -- "We stumbled at the end of the first period but for the next 40 minutes we battled good enough to win the game," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said of Buffalo's 4-2 over Philadelphia. "We're desperate. The number of games we've lost on the road you've got to show that desperation."

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