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Sabres at Hurricanes: Live Blog and Open Game Thread

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Buffalo Sabres
@ Carolina Hurricanes

Sunday, Apr 3, 2011, 5:00 PM EDT
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Before we get started, here are the scenarios for the Canes tonight:

  • Canes win in regulation: Tie Buffalo in points and regulation or overtime wins (ROW). Third tiebreaker is season series, and if the Canes win today they will hold that tiebreaker, putting them into 8th with a magic number of 7. This is the only outcome that ensures the Canes have control of their own destiny.
  • Canes win in overtime: One point back of Buffalo, still in 9th but tied with Buffalo in ROW. Tragic number drops to 6.
  • Canes win in shootout: One point back of Buffalo, still in 9th and still a win behind the Sabres in ROW. Tragic number drops to 6.
  • Sabres win in regulation: Sabres go four points up on Canes, drop Rangers back to 8th place where they would be three points ahead of Carolina. Tragic number drops to 3. (If this happens, barring a long losing streak by either BUF or NYR, it's likely over.)
  • Sabres win in overtime: Sabres go three points up, take 7th from Rangers who would be two points ahead of Carolina. Tragic number drops to 4. If the Canes and Sabres go to overtime, the Canes want to make darned sure they either win or get to the shootout. A Sabres win before the shootout puts them up by two wins in ROW.
  • Sabres win in shootout: Same as above, tragic number at 4 but the Canes would trail the Sabres by one in ROW rather than two.

Here we go...

2:10 1st: If your definition of "a playoff atmosphere" is both teams playing close to the vest in the early going, then this game doesn't have one - but I dare you to tell me this isn't a playoff atmosphere. The crowd is ramped up, both teams have been going up and down the ice and it's been quite the entertaining start.

5:50 1st: Big pad stop by Cam Ward on Cody McCormick, who had a perfect screen set up and couldn't convert thanks to a quick kick by the Canes' netminder. If the teams are going to get into a track meet, as it looks likely to become early, Ward will need to be sharp - but then again, he's been just that for the lastfew months.

10:47 1st: Sabres lead 1-0; Butler 1 (Stafford, Ennis) What a time for Chris Butler's first of the season. The trailer on a slow-developing 3-on-2, Butler took a feed from Drew Stafford at the near faceoff dot and had all day to set up, beating Ward with a snap shot high to the glove side with about an inch to spare from hitting the crossbar. That's just what the Canes didn't need.

13:00 1st: Canes are trying way too many cute passes through low-percentage areas so far. The Sabres' sticks have been in the passing lanes all night and they've used the turnovers they've generated to power odd-man rushes the other way. They've already scored on one of them and they've had about three other chances to do likewise.

End 1st: The Canes have 44 seconds remaining on a power play earned by a Sabres bench-interference penalty, one of the more bizarre penalties I've ever seen called. Someone on the Sabres' bench hooked Erik Cole as he was skating up the ice and the bench was whistled for the call, one game after the Canes were nailed for an illegal starting lineup. Of course that was going to happen. Shots in the first were 9-6 Sabres but it seemed like more than that.

:30 2nd: Nice chance for the Canes, but Joni Pitkanen's backdoor attempt off a Cory Stillman pass was easily snagged by Jhonas Enroth, who's had a quiet night so far. His defense has been doing yeoman's work in front of him.

2:20 2nd: The Canes immediately took a hooking penalty to Eric Staal after the Sabres killed off the bench minor, and two great defensive plays by Canes defensemen kept them down by only one. First, Joni Pitkanen somehow swept the puck out from the crease with about six guys crowding Ward, then a minute or so later Bryan Allen tied up Thomas Vanek's stick just enough to keep Vanek from potting a rebound into a wide-open net. Good to see the defense helping Ward out, because he's been a little bit shaky so far.

5:50 2nd: Canes tie it at 1; Staal 33 (Allen, LaRose) And add an assist to Andrej Sekera, who was going to be issued a hooking penalty had the Canes not scored. A wild play in front of the Sabres net as Enroth made the initial save, but Sekera pushed LaRose into the net which pried the puck loose and it bounced off Staal and into the net. Can't overstate how big a break that is for the Canes, who barely killed off a penalty and then tied it a minute later on a fluky goal.

11:22 2nd: The Canes are really pouring the pressure on now, and it's forcing the Sabres to chase them around the offensive zone. A big shift for the Staal line forced a tripping penalty to Andrej Sekera, who may have hurt his hand at the same time. Rough life for a defenseman.

13:44 2nd: Nothing doing on the Sekera penalty, but then Paul Gaustad takes a bad goaltender interference penalty to hand the Canes their second straight power play.

17:00 2nd: The Canes were handed a 5-on-3 that the Sabres were juuuust a bit upset about as Butler went to the box for tripping Jeff Skinner, but the Canes couldn't convert on either penalty. Joe Corvo had the best chance, clanking a shot square off the near post a few seconds into the two-man advantage. Remember when we said that the power play was going to be the death of the Canes' playoff chances? We'll see how true that is in about 23 minutes of game time.

End 2nd: Jussi Jokinen took a dumb boarding penalty with 8.5 seconds left, so the Sabres will begin the 3rd period with 1:52 of a power play. Shots in the second period were 15-11 Canes, who took a 21-20 overall lead.

3:00 3rd: The Sabres took a ton of momentum off their power play to start the period, and they're really forcing the issue now. The Canes have been beaten badly along the boards to start the period and they're lucky to have both escaped penalties and not given up a goal.

3:35 3rd: Tyler Ennis goes to the box for hooking to hand the Canes their fifth power play of the night. Needless to say, they're all big now.

6:00 3rd: For the fifth time tonight, the Canes can't convert a power play. At the worst possible time, the Canes' man advantage is reverting to its form from a couple of weeks ago where they couldn't do anything with the extra skater. Fourteen minutes to go and the Canes must score at least once to grab the 8th spot.

11:43 3rd: A four-on-four nearly resulted in a couple of goals for the home team, but nothing doing after LaRose shot high over Enroth on a one-on-one sequence and Ruutu took a shot that left a rebound in the crease with no one there to bang it home. The Canes have had their chances, and they haven't cashed in. Not what you want to hear with eight minutes left in a must win game.

End 3rd: No surprise here: we're going to overtime after the Canes' sixth power play of the night comes up empty. That is an enormous point the Canes earned, but it's a more enormous point that they gave the Sabres. Now they just need a win, somehow.

Postgame: They didn't get it. Marc-Andre Gragnani's first career goal at 2:56 of overtime gave the Sabres the extra point and simultaneously hastened the process of the Canes' slow death march to the offseason. They're not done yet, but with a tragic number of 4 with three games to go it's not looking real optimistic either.

Here's postgame audio from Brandon Sutter, Cam Ward, Tim Gleason and Paul Maurice. The Canes are back to work on Tuesday and, depending on what happens in the Rangers-Bruins game tomorrow, might be playing for their postseason lives on Wednesday against Detroit. We'll be here to cover it all.