Oh, baby! Gerber hot

AL STRACHAN

, Last Updated: 9:06 AM ET

BUFFALO -- Even though a team's starting goalie tends to start, it was something of a surprise that Martin Gerber was back between the pipes for the Carolina Hurricanes last night.

So far in this post-season, they had been riding back-up Cam Ward, but coach Peter Laviolette made the decision to go back to the guy who had the lion's share of the work in the regular season. The decision turned out to be flawless.

Gerber not only won the game, he produced a shutout as the Hurricanes rolled over the Buffalo Sabres 4-0 and tied the Eastern Conference final at 2-2.

"It's never fun to be watching," said Gerber, who hadn't started since Game 2 of the opening round. "Cam played great. He was unbelievable. You've just got to be patient and wait for your chance."

As it happens, Gerber was suffering from a stomach virus during those first two starts and lost 12 pounds.

"It was one of those things that just hammers you for a couple of games," he said. "I don't want to use it as an excuse but it wasn't really comfortable at that point."

He looked comfortable last night. Even though the Sabres produced a fairly lacklustre game from an offensive point of view, they did have some chances in the early going, especially from J.P. Dumont and Chris Drury.

But Gerber stopped them both, and when the Hurricanes opened the score at 6:34, on a goal by Mark Recchi, that would be all that they would need.

"It was nice to start like that," Gerber said. "I felt in the game right away."

And on this occasion, the rest of his teammates were in the game as well -- the whole game.

It has been the custom of these teams to follow a good period with a bad one. As a result, there were expectations that after the Hurricanes opened a 2-0 lead in the first period -- with the second goal coming from Eric Staal on the power play -- the Sabres would rebound in the second period.

They didn't.

The Hurricanes got another goal themselves, then a fluky, irrelevant one on a deflection late in the game.

Many of the Carolina players had no idea that Gerber was going to get the start.

"I didn't know until game time," Kevyn Adams said.

"I knew last night," Adams' penalty-killing partner Chad Larose said. "Wardo is my roommate. He kept his head up. He was real good about it. He said that he wanted whatever was best for the team. He never showed anything."

The Carolina players were full of praise for Gerber.

"He was sharp," forward Cory Stillman said. "I thought the best thing for him was that partial breakaway in the first period. He made the save and that got him into the game."

Added defenceman Mike Commodore, "He played great. I don't know what it's like to do something like that. I can't imagine what it's like sitting around for so many games, then getting thrown in like that."

Even Sabres coach Lindy Ruff tossed a few accolades in Gerber's direction.

"I thought he played great," he said. "He made some key saves at key times. He didn't have to make a lot of them, but he made key saves.

"Nothing got by him. Nothing got through him. He was pretty good."

EXCUSE

But for that matter, so were all of the Hurricanes -- and the Sabres can't use the injuries to their defencemen as an excuse.

The replacements, Jeff Jillson and Doug Janik, played well. On this night, the Hurricanes simply outplayed the Sabres from top to bottom.

So now the series heads back to Raleigh with the Hurricanes confident and riding a strong goaltender. The Sabres, meanwhile, are injury-riddled.

But the way this series and this post-season have been going, it's never wise to assume that an outcome is pre-ordained.


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