Midway through the first period, defenseman Mike Commodore opens the scoring after his one-timer ricochets off of Sabres center Adam Mair.
After his costly penalty in overtime of Game 6, Doug Weight would get an assist on Commodore’s goal.
Carolina would carry the lead through the first intermission and deep into the second period. But Buffalo would draw even on a Doug Janik point shot during a 4-on-4 situation.
Sabres center Jochen Hecht beats Eric Staal on the faceoff and Ales Kotalik taps the puck back to Janik as Hecht drives the net.
With lots of traffic in the shooting lane, Cam Ward attempts to peer around the bodies and leans to his right. Janik’s rising slapper finds a lane trough the congestion and beats Ward to his left on the glove side.
Just a few minutes later, Buffalo would capture their first lead of the game in the waning seconds of the period.
With Carolina attempting to clear, Mark Recchi is boxed out from a loose puck, allowing Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell to pinch and hold the zone. Campbell wraps the puck behind the net to Hecht, whose centering pass takes an odd bounce and sneaks past Ward.
Ward was cheating slightly off his post, expecting the centering pass to Chris Drury. That subtle head start, left just enough space for the puck to redirect off of Glen Wesley’s skate and into the net.
With their season on the brink, the Hurricanes opened the final period of regulation with a buzz. Just a minute and a half in, Weight would make up for his Game 6 mistake and tie Game 7.
Weight wins the offensive zone faceoff and, as Nic Wallin wraps the puck behind the goal, stays high to lose his checker, Derek Roy. When Roy sinks too low and gets caught puck watching, Weight drives the net and finishes a beautiful Ray Whitney feed.
Whitney’s spin move behind the net forces Ryan Miller to move post to post and creates a bit of chaos in front.
Then the Whitney pass splits both Miller and Roy and is in the perfect spot for Weight to get a stick on.
With the score even moving late into the third, Buffalo’s Brian Campbell became a victim of the puck-over-glass rule, in its first season in the league, taking a penalty for delay of game.
Trying to avoid a hit, Campbell just puts too much air under his clearing attempt and is penalized.
With four regular Sabres defensemen out due to injury, and a fifth in the penalty box, the Hurricanes top power play unit goes to work. Rod Brind’Amour, Staal and Bret Hedican exchange long passes before Staal puts the puck towards the net. The puck doesn’t get through and lies just outside of the crease until Brind’Amour cleans up the trash.
The Canes execute a throat and collar screen, with Cory Stillman in the high slot and Justin Williams parked atop the crease. Stillman gets his stick on the puck and it falls flat right in front of Williams. As bodies collapse towards the loose puck, two Sabres take on Stillman. Rory Fitzpatrick outmuscles Williams and wins the battle, but cannot locate the puck, allowing Brind’Amour to swoop in and elevate the puck over Miller.
Miller kept his stick on the ice, protecting the lower half of the net but exposing the upper portion on his blocker side.
Minutes later, Buffalo would be unable to capitalize on a power play of their own after a Williams tripping minor. Fresh out of the box, Williams would put the nail in the coffin.
After Brind’Amour chips the puck to the far boards, Williams picks it up and storms in behind the aggressive Sabres defense. Miller is still in his net due to a very 2006 coaching decision by then Sabres (now Devils) head coach Lindy Ruff. Williams attempts to find Brind’Amour on the back door, but the pass is broken up, once again creating a loose puck.
The Buffalo back check does an admirable job getting back and taking away Brind’Amour as an option.
This time, Miller sells out to prevent a centering pass, lunging forward with his stick. The poke check, in conjunction with Jason Pomminville’s and Chris Drury’s defensive efforts, works, but it puts Miller on his back and unable to make a save on any follow up attempt.
Williams’ goal would seal it and Carolina would hold on in the final minute, advancing to the franchise’s second Stanley Cup Final in four years.
Buffalo would make it back to the Conference Finals a year later, falling to Ottawa in five games. In the 13 seasons since then, the Sabres have not won a playoff series and have only qualified for the postseason on two occasions.