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Top Line Outplays Opposition

by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres
The spotlight was pointed directly on the Buffalo Sabres' top line entering the third game of their best-of-seven series with the Carolina Hurricanes. With the Eastern Conference Finals tied 1-1, head coach Lindy Ruff placed sole responsibility for his team's production squarely on the shoulders of his best offensive trio.

Daniel Briere, Jochen Hecht and JP Dumont answered the call in Game Three combining for two goals, five of Buffalo's 12 points and seven shots on net as the Sabres held off the Hurricanes to win Game Three, 4-3, at the HSBC Arena on Wednesday night.

"They had a really good night for us in all areas," Ruff said. "If we are going to win, they need to play like that."

Conscious of their poor performance, the three discussed situations, watched film and made a couple of adjustments to cope with Carolina's crashing defense during practice on Tuesday. The extra work bore fruit as Briere led the trio with a pair of goals, while Dumont added two assists. Hecht finished with an assist.

"I don't think Lindy needed to motivate us after the way we played in the second game in Carolina," said Briere, referring to the line's combined two shots on goal and four turnovers. "We knew that our line didn't get the job done, weren't moving our legs and were waiting for the puck to come to us. We had to switch it up and change some things. It seemed to work in our favor tonight."

Buffalo's power-play unit looked extremely sharp despite the absence of Teppo Numminen. Rookie Jeff Jillson, who was playing in his first career NHL playoff game, was inserted in the veteran's stead and helped the unit record two goals in seven opportunities.

"(Jillson) played very well," said Ruff. "He really moved the puck well on the power play, was physical at times, and I really liked Jeff's game. For stepping into a pretty tight situation and coming home, he responded with a solid game for us."

Buffalo won the game with a dominating second period in which the team out shot Carolina 18-9 and chased Cam Ward from the Hurricanes' pipes with three goals in the first 13 minutes. Buffalo scored all four of its goals in a span of 13 minutes and 25 seconds.

"We probably played our best period of hockey in the second," said Ruff. "I don't know if we played that well in one period this year."

Physical play created scoring opportunities for Buffalo's forwards all night long and ultimately produced the game winner.

A monstrous hit by Toni Lydman on Mike Commodore forced a turnover in Carolina's zone, which led to the Sabres fourth goal of the game. Collecting the loose puck, Maxim Afinogenov fired a centering pass to Ales Kotalik that the forward one-timed from the slot for his third of the playoffs at 12:55 of the third to make the score 4-1.

"We just know that we can bounce back from bad outings, bad games and tough breaks," Briere said. "It's not something you can't teach."

Cory Stillman brought Carolina within two goals with his second of the night at 18:18. Trailing on a three-on-two rush, Stillman chipped Aaron Ward's rebound over the right pad of a downed Ryan Miller to make the score 4-2. Miller had made a miraculous kick save on Ward but couldn't get rid of the puck before Stillman pounced.

Carolina closed the gap when Eric Staal one-timed Doug Weight's rebound into a wide-open net to bring the Hurricanes within a goal at 15:52 of the third.

Miller held strong for the victory despite a barrage of shots in the final moments.

When asked post-game about his mindset during the scramble, Miller explained that in order to keep himself sharp, he must remain focused on the present and not look too far ahead.

"I was trying not to look at the clock," said Miller, who made 24 saves in the game. "If you do, you start thinking about time ticking away and that tends to go with the thinking that you hope they don't get a shot through.

"It's my job to be there when shots make it through, so I have to expect shots, play and be a part of the hockey game until time runs out."

A quick feed from Dumont along the boards at the red line sprung Briere on a breakaway for his second of the night. Racing in uncontested, the center snapped a wristshot high glove for his seventh of the postseason at 8:28 to make the score 3-1 in favor of the Sabres.

With Doug Weight's interference penalty with four seconds remaining in the first, Buffalo opened the second on the man advantage.

After several sharp passes around the perimeter of the zone got Carolina out of position, Dumont found Hecht in front with a great feed from the left boards. Ward saved the German's backhander but left a juicy rebound for Briere, who stuffed the puck between the netminder's legs at 1:02 of the second.

Briere's goal marked the first time since the third period of Game One that Buffalo has obtained a lead in the series.

With just 29.3 seconds remaining in the first, the Sabres power play scored its first of two consecutive goals to tie the game, 1-1. Chris Drury redirected Kotalik's wristshot from the right point short side for his eighth goal of the playoffs and Buffalo's first of the night at 19:30.

Miller was the victim of friendly fire for Carolina's first goal.

Cory Stillman's across-ice feed intended for Mike Commodore at the right post deflected of Jay McKee's stick into the net at 14:07 of the first to give Carolina the 1-0 lead.
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