Friday, 10.14.2011 / 1:21 AM
After nearly a week off, the Buffalo Sabres have surely had plenty of time to let their tremendous start to the season sink in.
While there's already a palpable level of excitement surrounding the team, Friday night's home opener is sure to create even more hoopla.
The Sabres try to open with three consecutive wins for the first time in three seasons when they meet the Carolina Hurricanes.
After defeating Anaheim 4-1 in Helsinki in last Friday's season opener, Buffalo concluded its European trek with a 4-2 win over Los Angeles in Berlin the next day.
stopped 60 of 63 shots during the trip, and the line of left wing Thomas Vanek
, rookie center Luke Adam
and first-year captain Jason Pominville
sparked the Sabres offensively.
The trio scored five of Buffalo's eight goals and is just one of the many reasons why Sabres fans have high hopes for this season.
"There's a buzz everywhere. Doesn't matter where," coach Lindy Ruff said. "Anybody you bump into is talking about the team and expectations. I don't know if it's ever been this high before. I think it's probably a little bit out of proportion but it's great to have, it's a great place to be."
Vanek is more than pleased with the team's recent efforts but knows continuing at its current pace won't be easy.
"The season is long, and you're going to have good stretches and bad stretches," said Vanek, who leads Buffalo with five points. "I think I've been around long enough where you welcome it and take it as they come. But it's the same as when you win and lose games, you try to stay even keel."
The Sabres haven't started 3-0-0 since winning their first four in 2008-09, and they now face a Hurricanes team coming off its first win.
Carolina (1-2-1) had surrendered 13 goals - five on the power play - over its first three games before killing all five of Boston's chances with the man advantage during Wednesday's 3-2 win.
"We're talking about the fourth game of the year, but we did treat it like a must-win game," said Cam Ward, who made 26 saves. "It's important that we get a win and feel good about ourselves and know what it's like to win hockey games.
"We can build from a game like (Wednesday). There's a lot of great positives that you can take away from it."
Defenseman Joni Pitkanen gave the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead in the second period before Jiri Tlusty and Anthony Stewart - left wings on Carolina's third and fourth lines - scored in the third.
"Teams are going to key on those two (top) offensive lines that we have," coach Paul Maurice said. "The big goal for me is Stewart's goal ... confidence-wise for that line and for me wanting to put them on the ice in a tight game. They've had some offense there, and if we can get comfortable with four lines that can play, we're going to be able to play in these kinds of games."
Ward is 2-1-0 with a 1.02 goals-against average over his last three visits to Buffalo, posting his second shutout during that span in a 1-0 win March 15.
Miller has gone 6-3-0 with a 1.69 GAA over his nine most recent home meetings with the Hurricanes, allowing two goals or less in all but one of those matchups.