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Sabres host Hurricanes with key points at stake

by Brian Hunter
HURRICANES (31-28-10) at SABRES (34-27-8)


Last 10:
Carolina 3-5-2; Buffalo 6-2-2

Season series:
Third of four meetings this season. Each team has won once on home ice by a 3-2 score. Drew Stafford's power-play goal proved decisive for Buffalo on Jan. 13, and Jamie McBain scored 26 seconds into overtime on March 3 to lift Carolina.

Big story: The term "four-point game" is often thrown around when discussing the implications of an intra-divisional matchup, but with the Sabres and Hurricanes in direct competition for one of the final two Eastern Conference playoff spots, that's exactly what Tuesday's battle represents. If Buffalo wins in regulation, it opens up a six-point lead, but if Carolina wins in regulation then its deficit will be just two points.

Team Scope:

Hurricanes: Coming off a rough 24-hour period in which it let a third-period lead slip away in a loss at Washington on Friday and then dropped another one-goal game at home Saturday to a Columbus team that probably won't make the playoffs, Carolina needs two points to get itself righted. The Hurricanes twice cut their deficit to a goal as Jeff Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu scored, but the power play was a main culprit in their 3-2 loss to the Blue Jackets. They went 0-for-9 with the man advantage, let three separate 5-on-3 opportunities go by the board and yielded a shorthanded goal.

"You've got to put pucks in the net. I think we had every chance imaginable and it's just not finding a way to the back of the net," captain Eric Staal said.

"I'm sure it's frustrating watching, but you have no idea being down on the ice and getting those looks and having them not drop."

Sabres: An air of sadness permeated the normally festive atmosphere that has filled HSBC Arena of late as Buffalo got set to host Ottawa on Sunday. Earlier in the day, the Sabres lost beloved "French Connection" line member Rick Martin at the age of 59, and they paid tribute to him both before and after their key 6-4 win over the Senators. Nathan Gerbe conjured up memories of Martin, a two-time 50-goal scorer, with a second-period slap shot that turned out to be the decisive goal.

"That was a mirror image," said coach Lindy Ruff, a former teammate of Martin. "You don't see those very often. As soon as it went in, I thought it was vintage Richard Martin right there."

Who's hot: Ruutu has goals in consecutive games for the Hurricanes. Despite not winning in his last three starts, Cam Ward has given up two goals or fewer in four of his last five. … Thomas Vanek has 2 goals and 6 assists during a five-game points streak for the Sabres. Tyler Ennis scored twice on Sunday and now has 3 goals and 2 assists during a three-game points streak. Brad Boyes has 4 goals and 3 assists in eight games since being acquired from the Blues.

Injury report:
McBain (upper body) missed Saturday's game for Carolina. … Stafford (hamstring) and Jochen Hecht (upper body) are day-to-day for Buffalo, while Patrick Kaleta (knee) is also sidelined. Patrick Lalime (knee) is out indefinitely. Derek Roy (quad) is out for the season.

Stat pack: Erik Cole's next point will give him sole possession of fourth place on the Hurricanes' all-time scoring list -- he's currently tied with Hall of Famer Ron Francis with 354 points. … Sabres defenseman Mike Weber followed a goal against the Maple Leafs on Saturday with a career-high three assists against the Senators.

Puck drop:
As important as every game is for Buffalo at this point, coach Lindy Ruff doesn't want to overwork No. 1 goalie Ryan Miller and he seems to have found a reliable backup in Jhonas Enroth, who picked up his fifth win in eight starts on Sunday. Miller has gone through an up-and-down season -- he's allowed three goals or more in five straight starts, but before that he went seven starts allowing two goals or less. His next win will be his 30th and mark the sixth straight season he's reached that mark.

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