"They're lines were better than our lines and that's the bottom line," said Lindy Ruff. "The first 40 minutes was probably the worst hockey we've played in the playoffs. We played a very disjointed first period."
Too many turnovers, a flimsy transition attack and erratic passing led to Buffalo being outshot 28-10 in the opening two periods. Despite two goals in the third period, the Sabres couldn't recover from a 3-1 deficit at the end of the second period.
"We started out well, but I just didn't think we had lines that played well tonight," continued Ruff. "We could have won some battles and didn't, could have gotten some pucks out of the zone that but instead turned the puck over and gave them some great scoring opportunities, and we made some stupid plays."
Besides Buffalo's inconsistent play, a trend continued for Buffalo during this season's playoffs. For the third time in the postseason, Teppo Numminen was forced from the lineup with a lower-body injury that he suffered in the first period of Game One against Carolina. And has happened in the previous two series, each game the veteran defenseman has not dressed, the Sabres lose. Numminen wasn't in the lineup for Games Three and Four of Buffalo's first-round series with Philadelphia.
Replacing the 17-year veteran was rookie Doug Janik, who didn't dress for a single NHL game this season. Janik's inexperience put even more strain on a Buffalo blueline that was already missing two of its starters - Numminen and Dmitri Kalinin - and forced the Sabres to rely on five defensemen for the majority of the game.
The rookie was on the ice just seven shifts for a total of four minutes and 12 seconds, by far the lowest on the team. Fellow rookie Thomas Vanek
was the next closest Sabre to Janik's playing time. Vanek was on the ice for just over 10 minutes from 17 shifts.
"(Janik) gave us what we needed," said Ruff. "I didn't think the other guys handled the extra ice time as well as I thought they were going to. Our top four at times struggled and that probably hurt our game more than anything."
Henrik Tallinder, who averaged over 22 minutes per game during the playoffs, picked up the majority of slack. Tallinder led Buffalo with 30 shifts and more than 24 minutes.
"Teppo has a calming presence because he's been around," said Ryan Miller
. "(Carolina) skates a lot and put a lot of strain on the defense. Having a new guy in the lineup is tough, but I think he did a good job. Everything is a team effort, and to a man, we think we can be better."
Miller was steady for Buffalo making 31 saves in the game, including stops on breakaways by both Eric Staal and Cory Stillman. Excluding Miller's miscue on Justin Williams' wristshot that ended up being the game winner, the netminder made timely save after timely save to keep Buffalo close in a one-sided affair.
The series, which is tied 1-1, will shift back to Buffalo for Game Three on Wednesday night and Game Four on Friday.
"We obviously needed to win tonight," said Carolina head coach Peter Laviolette. "It was a good game for us but the win was important just so that we could get involved in the series. Being 2-0 would have been an uphill task and now we're in it."
"Every series we've jumped out of the gate and gotten the first two games," Miller said. "This one, we came out and pushed hard, but they pushed back. It's going to be one of those kinds of matches."
Carolina's power-play ignited in Game Two after being held scoreless in 25 of its last 26 man-advantage opportunities against Buffalo. The Hurricanes finished two for five with the man advantage on the night, with both goals coming from power plays created by undisciplined Buffalo penalties away from the play.
"We weren't very good in a lot of areas and penalty killing was one of them," Ruff said. "We got running around a little bit and allowed some shots we didn't want to allow. We had some personnel changes and it just seemed like we were a little out of sync."
Midway through the first, Ales Kotalik, trying to anticipate a pass off the left boards, blindsided Bret Hedican with a huge shoulder-to-shoulder check and drew a minor penalty for interference.
On the ensuing power-play, Frantisek Kaberle fired a slapshot from the top of the right face-off circle shortside on Miller to give Carolina the early 1-0 lead at 10:05.
With some undisciplined play of his own, Stillman opened the door for Buffalo to tie the game after going head hunting on Brian Campbell. Kotalik redeemed himself with only 48 seconds remaining in the first when he fired a wristshot from the blueline that deflected off Thomas Vanek
's left skate and skipped over Cam Ward's left pad to tie the game 1-1 at 19:12. The goal was credited to Vanek, his second of the postseason.
With Jochen Hecht
in the "sin bin" for tripping Stillman at Buffalo's blueline, Ray Whitney deflected Staal's wristshot from the point between Miller's legs to regain the Hurricanes' lead 2-1 at 6:03 of the second.
Whitney scored his second of the night and increased Carolina's lead to a pair after one-timing Matt Cullen's feed from the high slot at 12:58 of the second. Justin Williams' innocent-looking wristshot tipped off Miller's glove into the net to make the score 4-1 at the 6:58 mark of the third.
"I thought we played well in the first and well in the second," said Laviolette. "We played well in the third until penalties came into play."
With a two man advantage, Chris Drury backhanded Daniel Briere's rebound from the slot over Ward's right pad to bring Buffalo within two goals at 11:39 of the third. Derek Roy
tipped Drury's shot from right wing on another power play for his fourth goal of the postseason with just 2.6 tics remaining in regulation to bring Buffalo to within a goal.
"I wouldn't consider that a narrow defeat by any means," said Ruff. "We're going back into our building and I want to see if they show up in our building like they showed up tonight."
-------------------------------------------------- SCORING REPORTS
| Super Stats
| Faceoff Comp
| Play By Play
| Shift Chart
Quotes courtesy of WGR 550-AM, the official radio partner of the Buffalo Sabres.