Same old Sabres

AL STRACHAN

, Last Updated: 3:12 AM ET

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The scenario rapidly is becoming a familiar one.

The Buffalo Sabres roll into town. The opponents play a good game -- a dominant game in many respects.

But when the final horn sounds, the Sabres go and celebrate in their dressing room while the opponents -- in this case, the Carolina Hurricanes -- go and shake their heads in theirs.

The final score in the opener of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final yesterday was 3-2. You can guess which team had the three.

For the first 21/2 minutes, the Hurricanes were all over the Sabres, zipping around the net, firing shots at goaltender Ryan Miller, then regrouping and going back to the attack.

When the Sabres finally managed to stage a rush, they went down to the other end and scored.

The game wasn't even three minutes old. The Hurricanes had dominated. But the Sabres were in front.

That's the way the Sabres tend to do business. They look as if they're playing to lose by a respectable score, then they come roaring down the ice and take charge.

The Hurricanes were in command in both the first and third periods yesterday afternoon. But it didn't do them much good. The score in each of those periods was 1-1.

In the period that the Sabres dominated, they won 1-0. That's all they needed.

That second-period goal was a beauty by Daniel Briere, who came down the left side unmolested when Carolina defenceman Mike Commodore overstayed his welcome in the neutral zone. Briere fired a laser backhander past Carolina goaltender Cam Ward into the upper corner.

When it went in, it surprised Briere as much as anyone.

"I was just trying to put the Jays' Langford one of the best in the businesspuck on the net and over his shoulder," he said. "I didn't see it go in. I had no clue until I saw my two linemates with their arms in the air.

"People who have seen the curve on my stick know I can't use my backhand very often."

Maybe he should. There's not a goalie in the world who could have stopped that one.

The Sabres appeared to have finished off the Hurricanes when Jay McKee pushed the score to 3-1 with 6:20 remaining. He came out of the penalty box, joined the rush and found himself with the puck in the corner. He moved toward the middle and, using the screen, beat Ward with a low shot.

McKee chuckled that he learned the move from Briere.

"Daniel beat me a few times practising with that move," he said, "so I thought I'd give it a shot."

At the other end, Miller was very good, but wasn't tested anywhere near as often as he should have been. The Hurricanes squandered chance after chance, either trying to be too cute or making poor decisions.

On one occasion, for instance, Ray Whitney, who has made a lucrative living scoring goals, passed up a great chance so that he could pass to Glen Wesley, who averages about two goals per season.

Rod Brind'Amour, who like Briere scored on a beautiful rising shot, had another opportunity seconds afterward. He was alone in front of the net but opted to pass.

And with the final seconds ticking off the clock, and Ward on the bench for the extra attacker, Cory Stillman was set up at the side with a wide-open net in front of him. That's 24 square feet. And he missed all of them.

To a man, the Sabres said afterward that they didn't like the way they got dominated in the third period, even though they were down to five defencemen after Teppo Numminen left in the second with a back injury.

They also said they can play a lot better for 60 minutes -- and they intend to do so next game.

Why bother?


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