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Sabres-Hurricanes Preview

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GAME: Buffalo Sabres (36-15-4) at Carolina Hurricanes (38-14-4).

TIME: Sunday, 5 p.m. EST.

The Buffalo Sabres find themselves in a good position heading into the Olympic break.

They'll look to earn a little extra momentum when they visit the Eastern Conference-leading Carolina Hurricanes at the RBC Center.

The Sabres bounced back from an overtime loss Thursday to the Montreal Canadiens with a 5-3 win Saturday over the Florida Panthers.

Buffalo, which is in fourth place in the conference, is 8-0-1 over its last nine games and needs one win to match its total from the 2003-04 season.

"We had a saying earlier in the year, refuse to lose two in a row. And it hasn't happened very often," coach Lindy Ruff said.

Rookie Thomas Vanek scored two goals for the Sabres, who are two points behind the third-place New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference. Buffalo has lost back-to-back games just once since a four-game losing streak in early November and is just one win shy of matching its total from last season.

Jiri Novotny, filling in for the injured Jochen Hecht, scored his first career goal for the Sabres. Hecht, selected for German team at the Olympics, will miss the Turin Games with a sprained knee.

Buffalo is 23-0 when leading by two goals, and is one of only three teams - joining Carolina (28-0) and the San Jose Sharks (19-0) - to not waste a two-goal lead this season.

The Sabres have scored at least four goals in four of their last six wins.

The Hurricanes have lost two in a row, including Friday's 4-3 loss to the conference-worst Pittsburgh Penguins. Carolina had not lost consecutive games since dropping three straight from Dec. 26-29.

The Hurricanes also saw their franchise-record nine-game home winning streak end.

"We got totally outplayed, the first 40 minutes, especially, that was where the game was lost," said coach Peter Laviolette, who will guide the U.S. team in Turin. "It's too bad. Two points slipped away. Every game is important."

Eric Staal had two goals and an assist for Carolina, which has lost three of four overall. The Hurricanes have scored just six goals in those three losses.

"We didn't play well in our own end," captain Rod Brind'Amour said. "We spent too much time running around."

Doug Weight made his Carolina debut in his fourth game since coming to the Hurricanes in a trade with St. Louis. The four-time All-Star still has not recorded a point and is minus-5 with his new team.

He is averaging better than a point per game in his career against the Sabres, tallying five goals and 19 assists in 22 games.

STANDINGS: Sabres - 76 points, 2nd place, 3 PB, Northeast Division. Hurricanes - 80 points, 1st place, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Sabres - Ales Kotalik, 21 goals and 43 points; Teppo Numminen, 30 assists; Andrew Peters, 63 PIM. Hurricanes - Staal, 36 goals and 74 points; Staal and Cory Stillman, 38 assists; Mike Commodore, 90 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS : Sabres - Power play: 21.2 percent (69 for 326), 2nd in NHL. Penalty killing: 86.4 percent (247 for 286), 2nd. Hurricanes - Power play: 19.6 percent (73 for 372), 6th. Penalty killing: 81.6 percent (248 for 304), 17th.

GOALTENDERS: Sabres - Ryan Miller (20-7-1, 2.23 GAA); Martin Biron (15-6-3, 2.98). Hurricanes - Martin Gerber (27-9-2, 3 SO, 2.73); Cam Ward (11-5-2, 3.44).

SEASON SERIES: Hurricanes, 1-0.

LAST MEETING: Nov. 9; Hurricanes, 5-3. At Buffalo, N.Y., Erik Cole became the first NHL player to be awarded two penalty shots, scoring on one of them.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Sabres - 18-8-1 on the road; Hurricanes - 23-5-1 at home.

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