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Sabres face 'Canes, hoping to extend Northeast lead

by John McGourty
CAROLINA (19-30-7) at BUFFALO (32-16-7)

Last 10 -- Hurricanes 5-5-0; Sabres 3-5-2

Season series -- This is the second meeting this season between the clubs. The Sabres won, 5-1, on Nov. 28 in Buffalo when they scored five times in the third period and Ryan Miller made 30 saves, including a spectacular save on Rod Brind'Amour when Buffalo was trailing 1-0 and short-handed. The teams meet again Feb. 11 and March 21 in Raleigh.

Big story -- The Ottawa Senators trailed the Buffalo Sabres by 13 points three weeks ago in the Northeast Division race. After the Senators beat the Sabres 4-2 on Wednesday in Buffalo and topped Vancouver 3-1 at home on Thursday, the Sabres' division lead is down to one point. The Sabres, who have gone 6-5-3 since midseason, have 25 games to play and three games in hand vs. Ottawa. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff shook up his defense pairings Wednesday, uniting Chris Butler with Andrej Sekera and Toni Lydman with Craig Rivet. Henrik Tallinder and Tyler Myers remain the top pairing.

Team Scope:

Hurricanes -- The Hurricanes had their best run of the season in late January, winning four in a row against the Bruins, Rangers, Islanders and Blackhawks. But they are 0-2 on this four-game road trip. Defenseman Joe Corvo returned Wednesday after missing 28 with a leg injury. That will help Carolina's offensive production.

Sabres --
The Sabres were left in shock Wednesday night when Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson scored twice in the final minute to hand them a 4-2 loss at home, the Sabres' eighth-straight loss to their division rival. Ruff whispered his press conference and Miller sat in wide-eyed bewilderment in the dressing room. They have to rebound and with upcoming games against Carolina (twice), Boston and Columbus, the schedule favors them.

Who's hot --
Carolina captain Eric Staal has 15 points in the past 10 games. Matt Cullen has six points in six games. Brandon Sutter has five points in six games. Jussi Jokinen has 11 points in eight games. … Buffalo left wing Thomas Vanek has 10 points in 10 games. Tim Connolly has three goals and 14 points in 10 games and 21 points in 15 games. Jason Pominville has four goals and 11 points in 10 games.

Injury report --
Hurricanes right wing Tuomo Ruutu has missed 13 games with an upper-body injury and is week-to-week. Right wing Erik Cole has missed 26 games with an upper-body injury and is week-to-week. Right wing Chad LaRose missed 19 of 22 games with a lower-body injury, played seven games and has missed the last two with an upper-body injury. Right wing Scott Walker has missed 16 games since shoulder surgery on Jan. 5. … Sabres right wing Patrick Kaleta missed Wednesday's game with a bruised foot suffered Monday against Pittsburgh.

Stat pack --
Buffalo is very good defensively, ranking fourth in allowing only 136 goals, or 2.38 per game. They score 1.07 goals for every goal the opponent scores in 5-on-5 play. The Sabres lead the NHL in killing off 87 percent of their short-handed situations, but only five teams allow more shots on goal. That's the reason Miller is the leading candidate for the Hart Trophy this season, pacing all NHL goalies with a 2.12 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.

Puck Drop -- Myers was named the NHL rookie of the month for January after scoring four goals and adding six assists while leading all first-year players with an average of 24:42 minutes of ice time per game. Myers leads all rookies with 24 assists and 23:28 average minutes for the season. He's tied for second with nine power-play assists. Myers is tied for ninth with a plus-7 rating. His three power-play goals are tied for fifth.

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