RALEIGH, N.C. - Rod Brind'Amour was the do-everything captain for the Carolina Hurricanes all season. It was most fitting that his goal put them into the Stanley Cup finals.
Brind'Amour's third-period goal snapped a tie and sent the Hurricanes into the championship round Thursday night with a 4-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals at the RBC Center.
It is the second trip to the finals in four seasons for the former Hartford Whalers. The only obstacle in the way of the franchise's first title is the five-time champion Edmonton Oilers, who have been waiting since Saturday to find out who they would play next.
The small-market, best-of-seven matchup, helped by the NHL's new salary cap in this first post-lockout season, opens Monday in Raleigh.
Carolina led 1-0 but fell behind late in the second period when Doug Janik and Jochen Hecht scored goals for the injury-ravaged Sabres.
After Doug Weight tied it at 2-2, Brind'Amour charged toward a loose rebound in front of the crease and flipped the puck by Ryan Miller.
"It's a crazy game," Brind'Amour said. "I'm just proud of our guys. we just wouldn't give up."
Mike Commodore gave Carolina its early lead, and Justin Williams sealed the victory with a goal in the final minute.
That finished off the Sabres, who nearly overcame the loss of four regular defensemen due to injury and play-making center Tim Connolly.
The teams fought to a standstill for nearly two weeks, with five of the first six games decided by a goal and two decided with power-play goals in overtime.
Now the second-seeded Hurricanes are moving on while the Sabres - the No. 4 seed in the East - head home with the empty feeling that a season's worth of hard work went unfulfilled.
"The guys did a good job, we just didn't have enough in the tank, I guess," Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere said.