Sabres hopes D-stroyed

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:08 AM ET

RALEIGH -- Had the game been scripted by Hollywood, the result would have been different.

But in real life, when you are missing four defenceman of National Hockey League calibre, it's exceedingly difficult to win a seventh game at this late stage of the playoffs.

The Buffalo Sabres did their best. They produced a courageous, some might say heroic, effort.

But the Carolina Hurricanes showed a lot of heart of their own, overcame a third-period deficit and defeated the Sabres 4-2 to advance to the Stanley Cup final against the Edmonton Oilers.

It was only in the final minute that the two-goal margin was established. Until then, the two sides were never more than a goal apart and the outcome was always in doubt.

It was a night of unexpected scoring heroes -- Mike Commodore for the Hurricanes and Doug Janik for the Sabres.

It was a night of vindication. Doug Weight, who took the crucial overtime penalty in Game 6, said: "I'll be out to make amends on Thursday."

It was a night of nervousness and butterflies and players trying to shake off the jitters with intense play.

Commodore opened the scoring on a point shot that bounced off Janik, one of the Sabres' replacement defencemen. Never let it be said that Commodore is guilty of arrogance.

"I was playing the bank shot," he said. "It's like pool.

"No, you know what? I knew Dougie (Weight) was going to feed me there, and the only thing I was thinking was: 'Get it by the first guy.' I barely did that.

"I wanted get it up too, and it didn't even come off the ice. It hit a skate, another skate and went in."

Janik made amends when he tied the score on a screened point shot of his own in the second period.

Then, to the shock of the home crowd, Buffalo went in front with only 3.3 seconds left in the period when Jochen Hecht, skating behind the net with nowhere to go and time running out, banked in a shot off the back of goalie Cam Ward's leg.

The Hurricanes were down, but they see themselves as an excellent comeback team and the stage was set for Weight to "make amends." Early in the third, driving to the net, he converted Ray Whitney's pass to do just that.

"To have the wind taken out of your sails late in the second period and then going in to sit and think about it, when you score that early in the third, now you're no longer thinking that you gave up the momentum goal," defenceman Aaron Ward said. "Now you're back in the game and it's tied 2-2."

Then came the killer.

At 11:22, with the 'Canes on a power play and buzzing around in the Buffalo end, the Sabres' defencemen lost sight of the puck. It seemed to sit just out of the reach of goaltender Ryan Miller for an eternity until finally, Rod Brind'Amour pounced on it and banged it into the net.

"We were all yelling and screaming on the bench," said Buffalo captain Daniel Briere. "It was just one of those plays.

"We've never made excuses all year and we're not going to start now. We got beat and that's the end of it. Right now it feels like we were so close but yet so far."

They were. In the final minute, with the Sabres pressing, the 'Canes broke out in force and Justin Williams got the insurance goal.

But until then, the Sabres had produced a spectacular effort. Without Henrik Tallinder, Jay McKee, Dmitri Kalinin and Teppo Numminen, all solid defencemen, they had pushed the powerful Hurricanes to the brink.

"I definitely think we left it all on the ice," Buffalo's Chris Drury said. "The heart, the character and the desire were all there right to the end."

There can be no arguing with that.


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