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Sabres Central

Sabres lose home finale to Caps
By Rick Anderson
April 13, 2002

Capitals' Ulf Dahlen scores the opening goal on Sabres goalie Mika Noronen in first period action.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

It was a story of two players. One was probably making his last start in a Sabres uniform. Another was trying to make a miracle comeback from a crippling disease and make a notch for himself in the NHL. Rob Ray could possibly have played his last game in Buffalo as a Sabre. Sebastien Charpentier stood on his head to thwart the Buffalo Sabres as the Washington Capitals beat the Sabres 3-1 Friday night in HSBC Arena.

In making his first NHL start, Charpentier was phenomenal. He made 38 saves and had to be especially sharp in the second stanza when the Sabres were throwing the kitchen sink at him. For a mad who has serious arthritic problems, Charpentier was the story of the game. He has to take medicine to help reduce the swelling in his legs. There wasn’t any evidence that he had an arthritic condition. In fact, quite the contrary.

"I don't think about that at all right now," Charpentier about his serious ailment. "It was a lot of fun out there. I'll tell you that. ... It's a dream."

Capitals coach Ron Wilson was aglow with pride over his rookie goalie.

"If he's not the best goalie in the American League, then he's certainly one of the top two or three," lauded Wilson. "He made all the easy saves, and he had to make four or five tough saves. He spent a lot of time in the minors and worked his way up. He's paid his dues and he was excellent."

The Sabres could only get one puck past him. That happened 4:55 of the second period when Taylor Pyatt fed a perfect pass to Miroslav Satan in the slot and he beat a defenseless Charpentier for his 36th goal of the season.

Ray was the other big story of the night. This summer he becomes an unrestricted free agent and this could have very well been his last game in Buffalo with the only NHL team he has played for. With the crowd hollering for one last appearance on the ice, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff gave them their wish. Ray played the entire remaining 2:19 of the third period and even had a shot of scoring his final goal in a Buffalo uniform if he does indeed either retire or move on.

Ray got a well-deserved standing ovation when he came out for the final shift of the game. Ray acknowledged the fans and the community he has worked so hard for in his emotional post game press conference.

"That was pretty cool," Ray said about the fan reaction. "You never really think about it (possibly being his last game as a Sabre), because you're caught up in the game. When that happened, it kind of hit home, and that's when you start feeling it.”

The Caps scored first in the opening period when Ulf Dahlen scored at the 9:52 mark. After Satan tied it up, the Caps capitalized on a lucky bounce late in the second stanza. Ken Klee’s shot from the left point hit Alexei Zhitnik’s stick and deflected past Mika Noronen, who was starting in place of Martin Biron. The goal came with just 41.6 ticks on the clock. Then the Caps opened the final period with another quick goal, this one by Dainius Zubrus only 20 seconds into the third. That was the backbreaker for the Sabres as they never could get the rubber past Charpentier.

Noronen only faced 17 shots and may have been able to stop a couple of the goals. But Ruff had to take another look at the rookie to see just how he responds to NHL play.

The Sabres round off the season Saturday night in Montreal, the team who clinched the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Sabres Talk

Ray became the Sabres all-time leader in penalty minutes and has the NHL mark for the most with just one team. This year, Ray reached the 3,000th penalty minute and also played in his 800th Sabres game. Ray, who is 33, wants to return to Buffalo next season. He only makes $500,000 per season, but with the current Adelphia financial crisis, nothing is assured with the team next year.

Ray reflected about what he thought of when the clock ticked down to the last couple of minutes and the crowd chanted his name.

“You really start thinking about it and a million things are going through your head in a short period of time. It was tough,” Ray said through his choked up emotions. “I just appreciate it.”

When asked what he had to say to those fans who gave him the standing ovation.

“Thanks. You know they accepted me very early here and if they didn’t accept me the way they did I probably wouldn’t have stayed as long as I did. You know they were a very very big part in what I have been able to do here.”

When told that he almost got a goal in his last shift, Ray laughed and said, “Yea, Lindy was pretty cool in letting me stay out there. You know I was dying, but he let me stay and let me stay and give me an opportunity. That was pretty cool.... that was a nice gesture.”

“I could have kept going, I was looking (at the clock) and was thinking 2 ½, I can last this, I can last this. It seems to be a pretty small thing to ask for and I appreciate it.”

Ruff gave Ray his kudos.

"Night after night, he puts the jersey on like any other guy, and a lot of nights it is thankless," lauded Ruff . "He has been a great asset for the team and the community, and it would have been nice to see him score at the end."

"It was great to see the fans cheering," Ruff said. "I thought I would keep him on for the rest of the game."

Rhett Warrener knows that Ray brings a lot of intangibles to the table.

"For a lot of years here he's epitomized the Buffalo Sabres," Warrener said. "There's nothing else that he wants or nothing else that he does but be a Buffalo Sabre. He loves Buffalo. Guys look up to him. The things he's done in the community are pretty amazing. There's not too many guys in the league who have put in the hours he has outside of hockey to help others and help promote this team."

Charpentier was on cloud nine after the game.

"It's awesome," said Charpentier. "I was on the phone all day (the day before) and I'm going to be on the phone all night tonight. It's just awesome. That was the dream growing up in Montreal and playing hockey. To play in the NHL is a great experience."

"I wasn't expecting that many shots for the first game," Charpentier laughed.


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