'Canes bounce back

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Some games simply defy an easy summation.

The Carolina Hurricanes dominated the Buffalo Sabres last night. They beat them to the puck; they beat them on the faceoffs. Their goaltending was better and they had almost twice as many shots.

Yet the winning margin was only 4-3. And had it not been for a couple of fortuitous bounces, the Sabres easily could have won.

They didn't, though, and as a result, the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final is now even at 1-1.

But what if Carolina defenceman Glen Wesley hadn't dived across the crease and knocked away a puck that was sliding into the net?

What if Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller, who has dropped to his knees and caught a long shot thousands of times, hadn't had one from Justin Williams fall out of his glove and dribble over the goal line?

The Sabres weren't interested in going over available excuses. Forward Chris Drury said that, as far as he was concerned, his team was badly outplayed.

"You usually don't deserve a win when you get beat like that," he said.

And as for any suggestion that the play was fairly even at times, Drury said, "It felt pretty lopsided."

Sabres forward Daniel Briere also praised the Hurricanes.

"These guys showed why they're here as well," he said. "They're not going to quit. They'll keep fighting and they had a little more fight than us.

"The first two periods, I thought they played better. They were on the puck a little quicker and they were turning their backs to the play. In the third period, we finally showed up and started to play the way we can."

Once again, there was a strong Buffalo presence in the RBC Center.

Tickets are easy to acquire here, no matter how much NHL commissioner Gary Bettman tries to sugar-coat the state of the league's popularity.

An hour before the game, the ticket windows were offering blocks of two, three or four seats. As a result, the Sabres got some vocal support when they came out with a strong start. It didn't help them a lot.

The Hurricanes built a 3-1 lead after two periods on power-play goals by Frantisek Kaberle and Ray Whitney, supplemented by a four-on-four goal by Whitney.

Derek Roy originally got credit for the lone Buffalo goal to that point, but it later was changed to Tomas Vanek. Either way, the last player to touch the puck was Carolina defenceman Mike Commodore, who was hit by it after Cam Ward made a fine save.

When the Hurricanes pushed the score to 4-1 on the goal by Williams just before the seven-minute mark of the third, the outcome seemed assured. It was, but only just.

A pair of minor penalties to Carolina four seconds apart set the stage for Drury's goal to make it 4-2, and another power play late in the game gave the Sabres another two-man advantage, though this time, they had to pull Miller to get it.

Roy scored with 2.6 seconds left, but the only effect that had was to push the game to an over for the over-under gamblers out there.

So in retrospect, the goal-line save by Wesley had a major impact.

"It's not something that you want to have happen very often," he said. "As a defenceman, it's a reaction thing. If I had been standing in front of the net, there's no way I would have been able to reach it, but I fortunately was just able to reach back and get it.

"And fortunately, they didn't have a tap-in on the other side."

Still, despite the what-ifs on the Buffalo side of the ledger, anything but a Carolina win would have been an injustice. They were, by far, the better team last night.

"Up to the last couple of minutes, I thought we had the game pretty much in hand," Hurricanes forward Rod Brind'Amour said. "We played a good 60-minute game. There were not a lot of lulls.

"We got a couple of penalties and it sucked a little momentum out of us."

But when the sides were at even strength, there was no doubt which team was better. And the better team won.


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