RALEIGH, N.C. -- For nearly two weeks, the Carolina Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres have fought to a standstill to see who will play for the Stanley Cup, so closing the intense series with a Game 7 seems fitting.
``If you would've told me before the series that we'd be getting ready for Game 7, I wouldn't have been surprised," Carolina forward Kevyn Adams said.
``This is what we as competitors live for, so there's no reason to be tight or nervous. It's about going out there and playing your best game. We're excited. We're looking forward to this. And it's nice to be at home, too."
In an Eastern Conference finals series tied, 3-3, the Hurricanes' home-ice advantage might be the only discernible difference between evenly matched teams playing tonight for the right to face Edmonton in the Stanley Cup finals. Five games have been decided by a goal, the last two in overtime. And throughout the series, momentum has turned with each shift.
The Hurricanes and Sabres have always seemed to find a way to win when they needed to most. Now they're both preparing for a game that will leave the loser with the empty feeling that a season's worth of hard work went unfulfilled.
``It's a great opportunity," Sabres cocaptain Chris Drury said. ``You don't know how many of these you're going to get in your career and your life. If we enjoy it and have a positive attitude going in with nothing to lose, I think we're going to be all right."
Neither franchise has had much success in Game 7s. The Sabres are 1-4 while the Hurricanes are playing their first since moving before the 1997-98 season to North Carolina from Hartford, where the former Whalers went 0-3 in Game 7s.
Still, few expected either team to even have this chance when the season began. The Hurricanes had missed the playoffs for two consecutive seasons since making an unexpected run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2002. The Sabres hadn't won more than 37 games in a season since last making the playoffs in 2001.
But with rule changes that sought to eliminate the clutching and grabbing that bogged down scoring, these teams evolved into examples of what the post-lockout NHL hoped to be: fast-paced and offensive-minded.
The formula was enough to carry each to 52 regular-season wins -- franchise records for both -- and two rounds worth of playoff victories.
``This is kind of how we pretty much figured it would go," Hurricanes captain Rod Brind'Amour said. ``We knew it wasn't going to be easy and it certainly hasn't been."
Now the question is which team will impose its brand of play well enough to advance. Considering the way the past three games have gone, it's impossible to predict.
Carolina is the only team to win consecutive games, following a 4-0 road win in Game 4 -- the only game to be decided by more than one goal -- with a 4-3 overtime home win in Game 5 to put the Sabres on the brink of elimination.
But Buffalo -- which controlled play for much of Sunday's loss -- came out with a dominating first period to take an early lead in Game 6 before getting a 2-1 overtime win on Daniel Briere's power-play goal.
Don't expect the Sabres to change much heading into tonight, either.
In the end, Carolina's biggest advantage could be playing at the RBC Center, where they were 31-8-2 in the regular season and have played in front of progressively louder playoff crowds. In 117 best-of-seven series that have gone to the final game, the home team has won 73 (62 percent), according to the NHL.