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Sabres and 'Canes ready for showdown

by John Kreiser
SABRES (39-29-10) at HURRICANES (38-30-10)

TV -- MSG-Buffalo (HD); FS-Carolinas (HD)

Last 10 --
Buffalo 6-2-2; Carolina 7-3-0

Season series -- It's the last of the four meetings between the playoff contenders. Buffalo won the first meeting at home in January, but the 'Canes have won the last two -- including 1-0 at Buffalo on March 15 in their last meeting.

Big story -- This might be the biggest game of the season for both teams. Seventh-place Buffalo can move four points in front of the ninth-place Hurricanes with a regulation win, while Carolina could find itself in eighth place when the night is over if it wins and the New York Rangers lose in Philadelphia earlier in the day.

Team Scope:

Sabres -- Saturday's game in Washington ran the gamut of emotions for the Sabres -- they trailed 2-0 before they knew what had happened, tied the game before the end of the opening period, twice took one-goal leads in the third period, saw Washington tie the game in the final minute of regulation and win on a shot by Alex Ovechkin that hit Buffalo's Andrej Sekera and went into the net.

Not getting two points when you're leading in the final minute is disappointing, but getting something when you're down 2-0 on the road isn't all bad when every point counts.

"Could have had two points, but this time of year we'll take this point and try to get two tomorrow," forward Thomas Vanek said.

Hurricanes -- The 'Canes found another gear in their game on Long Island Saturday night, scoring three goals in the third period to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 win. Cam Ward kept the 'Canes in the game through 40 minutes before goals by Joe Corvo and Eric Cole put Carolina ahead and Eric Staal iced it by hitting the empty net.

The 'Canes have been playing must-win games for the last couple of weeks, so Sunday's game will be nothing new.

"It's preparing us for what playoff hockey is going to be like. The ups and downs, the momentum changes," Cole said. "But more importantly, it's teaching us that we can't have a group that goes out and be tense. We have to be loose. We have to play the way we're capable."

Who's hot --
Vanek, Buffalo's leading scorer, had a goal Saturday to extend his points streak to five games. … Ward has won all three starts this week, stopping 95 of 111 shots.

Injury report --
The Sabres will again be without goaltender Ryan Miller, who has missed Buffalo's last two games with an upper-body injury. The Sabres are also without defenseman Jordan Leopold (finger) and forwards Derek Roy (quad), Patrick Kaleta (knee), Mike Grier (knee) and Jochen Hecht (upper body). … The Hurricanes are as healthy as any team is going to get with one week left in the season.

Stat pack -- Buffalo had killed off 36 of 37 opposition power plays before Washington scored twice in the third period. … Ward is 4-2-0 with a 1.81 goals-against average and two shutouts in his last six starts against the Sabres.

Puck drop -- Emotions figure to be high at the RBC Center, especially because both teams will know the result of the game between the eighth-place Rangers and Philadelphia before the 5 p.m. ET faceoff.

Carolina coach Paul Maurice wants his team to avoid focusing on the implications of the game and simply go out and play.

"If you allow the tension and negativity of the ramifications of a potential negative outcome to affect that, then you're tanked," Maurice said. "We need to go out and just play."

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