Hurricanes use Gerber in goal to get even with Sabres

Saturday, May 27th 2006, 6:58 am
By: News On 6

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) _ The flu caused Martin Gerber to lose 10 pounds and his starting job when the playoffs began. The one thing the Carolina Hurricanes goaltender didn't drop was his confidence.

With rookie Cam Ward suddenly struggling and the Hurricanes needing to regain momentum against the banged-up but feisty Buffalo Sabres in the Eastern Conference final, Gerber made the most of his second chance in his first start in more than a month.

He stopped 22 shots _ including 11 in the first period _ to register his first career playoff shutout and victory in a 4-0 win Friday night, enabling the Hurricanes to tie the series 2-2.

``It's never fun when you're watching,'' Gerber said. ``You've just got to be patient, keep working hard and wait for your chance.''

That opportunity came after coach Peter Laviolette was impressed by how Gerber played in stopping all seven shots he faced, including three breakaways, in relief of Ward in a 4-3 loss in Game 3 on Wednesday.

``I just had a feeling watching him,'' Laviolette said, noting that Gerber had regained the form of the player that set a franchise record by winning 38 games in the regular season. ``It's not like we brought in a guy from the minor leagues or a backup, per se. We brought in a guy who won 40 games this year.''

The challenge for the Hurricanes is whether they can keep the momentum in a series in which neither team has won two straight and both are 1-1 at home.

The series shifts to Raleigh for Game 5 on Sunday with Game 6 back in Buffalo on Tuesday.

The test for the Sabres is shoring up a patchwork defense that's down three regulars after Henrik Tallinder broke his left arm on Wednesday. With Teppo Numminen (groin) and Dmitri Kalinin (ankle) also out, Buffalo was forced to go with Jeff Jillson and Doug Janik, who entered the game with a combined six playoff appearances and only two this year.

Coach Lindy Ruff defended his blue-liners, instead blaming his forwards for failing to finish and a power play that went 0-for-4.

``I'm not looking at defense as an excuse for losing. I think you're looking in the wrong place,'' Ruff said. ``It was a night where we got frustrated. We tried a lot of individual stuff and didn't capitalize on some situations.''

``We can't let it deflate us,'' said Jillson, who was on for three Carolina goals. ``We have to put it behind us, learn from some parts and put our best foot forward next game.''

The Hurricanes made the most of their chances, needing four shots to build a 2-0 lead midway through the first period when Mark Recchi scored on a tip in and Eric Staal added a power-play goal.

Defenseman Bret Hedican had a goal and assist and Andrew Ladd also scored, allowing Carolina to become the first team in the series to win by more than one goal. The margin of defeat was the Sabres' worst in the playoffs since a 5-1 loss to Montreal in 1991.

The Hurricanes weren't making any apologies for exploiting the worn-down Sabres.

``No question about it, it's part of our game plan,'' Hedican said of the Hurricanes' intent to force the puck deep. ``I think the playoffs are tough and grueling, and no question about it, they've got some defense that are out of the lineup and that's something that we had to take advantage of.''