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  • Game info: 2:00 pm EDT Sat May 20, 2006
  • TV: NBC, TSN

PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference finals; Game 1.

Starting unproven goaltenders in the Stanley Cup playoffs can be risky, but it’s worked out well so far for the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes.

Buffalo’s Ryan Miller and Carolina’s Cam Ward are expected to start in goal when the Sabres and Hurricanes meet in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals at the RBC Center on Saturday.

Each finished with a franchise-record 52 victories—although the addition of the shootout certainly added to those totals—on their way to surprising success.

Behind 38 wins from Martin Gerber, the Hurricanes posted the second-highest point total in the East during the regular season. But his struggles in the postseason helped open the door for Ward.

Gerber gave up six goals on 21 shots in Carolina’s playoff opener against the Montreal Canadiens, then gave up three more on 13 first-period shots in Game 2.

After Ward allowed three goals and the Hurricanes fell behind 2-0 in the opening series. Since then, they have won eight of nine games with the 22-year-old rookie in net. Only once has he allowed more than two goals in a game—a 5-1 loss to New Jersey in Game 4 of the East semifinals on May 13 after taking the first three games

Ward has posted a 1.77 goals-against average and .930 save percentage in 10 playoff games. He has never faced the Sabres.

“It’s a good thing they didn’t see me this season,” Ward said. “And I had the best seat in the house (the players bench) to watch them.”

As he had done throughout the regular season, Eric Staal carried Carolina’s offense in the postseason. He has scored all of his points—five goals and 10 assists—during a 10-game points streak.

The 25-year-old Miller has gone 8-3 in the playoffs, allowing more than two goals only in the three losses, a critical key to Buffalo eliminating top seed Ottawa in five games in the East’s other semifinal series.

Miller faced an average of 35 shots a game in the the Sabres’ four victories.

“I don’t think it changes too much,” Miller said, referring to the increased pressure on him. “Just go out and play and have some fun.”

The Sabres advanced last Saturday when Jason Pominville scored a short-handed goal in overtime of a 3-2 victory. It was Buffalo’s fifth short-handed goal of the playoffs.

The Sabres are expected to be without center Tim Connolly (possible concussion) and defenseman Dmitri Kalinin (ankle) for the start of the series.

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Sabres - 110 points; 4th seed; beat Philadelphia Flyers 4-2, quarterfinals; beat Ottawa Senators 4-1, semifinals. Hurricanes - 112 points; 2nd seed; beat Montreal Canadiens 4-2, quarterfinals; beat New Jersey Devils 4-1, semifinals.

PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Sabres - Chris Drury and J.P. Dumont, 6 goals; Daniel Briere, 9 assists; Briere and Drury, 13 points; Jay McKee, 22 PIM. Hurricanes - Rod Brind’Amour, 6 goals; Staal, 10 assists and 15 points; Mike Commodore, 23 PIM.

PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Sabres - Power play: 15.4 percent (10 for 65). Penalty killing: 85.2 percent (52 for 61). Hurricanes - Power play: 27.8 percent (15 for 54). Penalty killing: 84.5 percent (49 for 58).

GOALTENDERS: Sabres - Miller (8-3, 1 SO, 2.25 GAA); Martin Biron (no appearances). Hurricanes - Ward (8-2, 1, 1.77); Gerber (0-1, 0, 5.26).

REGULAR SEASON SERIES: The Hurricanes claimed the first three games. The Sabres won the series and season finale on April 18, a 4-0 win behind 33 saves from Biron.

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