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Sweeping the Bad Memories Away

by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres
Hockey players don't forget when they are 20 minutes away from the ultimate goal only to have it pulled from them.

So an instant rivalry was created as soon as time ran out on Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals last season. Every team guns for the defending Stanley Cup Champions, but none harder than the team the champs eliminated on their way to the title.

The Buffalo Sabres extracted just a little retribution from the Carolina Hurricanes for last season's conclusion by clinching the regular season series sweep with a 4-1 victory at HSBC Arena on Thursday night.

"In my mind, that loss [in Game Seven] is still fresh," said Ales Kotalik, who scored his 11th goal of the season with a penalty shot in the third period after being pulled down on a breakaway by Erik Cole. "You can't forget being knocked out in Game Seven when you're leading 2-1 after two periods. You can see yourself in the Stanley Cup Finals and you will never be able to forget."

"I would rather have won Game Seven," said Chris Drury when asked about the four-game winning streak against Carolina. "They ended our season and it certainly wasn't lost on us in these four outings. We're pretty happy to sweep them."

Putting fourth an uninspired effort in the opening period, the speedy Carolina defense and non-stop offensive pressure held Buffalo's offense to just a single shot, its lowest total of the season.

"We weren't going to places, and we weren't getting to places," said head coach Lindy Ruff. "When we made up our mind to [skate] we got the results. And it's as simple as that. We were awful in the first period."

Only one thing held the Hurricanes scoreless, goaltender Ryan Miller and his 10 saves. Miller earned first star honors after making 29 saves and holding a shutout for nearly 59 minutes.

"Our goalie went to work until the other 18 guys were ready to play, especially our forwards," said Ruff. "Our forwards weren't ready to play, weren't ready to compete and they weren't ready to skate."

But it took just one spark to ignite the best even-strength attack in the league.

Through a scrum in front of the net, Jason Pominville slipped a loose puck past a downed John Grahame for his 17th goal and third against Carolina in four meetings this season to claim the 1-0 lead at 1:21 of the second.

With blood in the water, Buffalo continued its feeding frenzy and saw a pair of players reach the 20-goal plateau before January 1st for the first time since the 1992-93 season when Dave Andreychuk (26), Alexander Mogilny (29) and Pat LaFontaine (27) each accomplished the feat.

Crashing the corner, Paul Gaustad forced a turnover in Carolina's zone that led to Drury's 20th goal of the season at 2:52. Drury hacked and slapped his way to the seventh 20-goal season of his eight-year professional career.

Buffalo struck for the third time in the period with less than four minutes remaining in the second.

Screening John Grahame, Thomas Vanek collected Jaroslav Spacek's rebound and buried the second chance just inside the right post for his 20th of the season at 16:18.

"We were getting better dumps into the zone and got a much better forecheck going," said Drury of the difference in the second period. "We stopped coasting around and that was probably the biggest thing."

"Our goals are a direct result from our forecheck," said Miller.

The Sabres are the second team in the NHL with two 20-goal scorers. Atlanta's Marian Hossa (24) and Ilya Kovalchuk (20) were the first duo.

The middle frame has been the sweetest for the Sabres this season. Buffalo's 60 goals are the most by any team in any period this season.
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