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Sabres Central

Big third period defuses Lightning
By Rick Anderson
April 2, 2001

The Buffalo Sabres are apparently taking this thing seriously. With a week remaining in the regular season, the Sabres appear to be making a run for the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Only one team separates them from the fourth spot on the East totem pole and that is Philadelphia. Sunday, the Sabres inched to within a point of the Flyers as the came up with a big third period to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2.

Sabres' forward Erik Rasmussen acts as a Lightning rod as he defuses Tampa's Alexander Kharitonov with a solid check into the boards during the first period of a Sabres 4-2 win over Tampa Bay.
[AP Photo/Scott Martin]

With 6 days remaining in the regular season schedule, the Sabres are breathing down the Flyers backs. The two teams conclude the season with a date in Buffalo next Sunday. It could well determine home ice advantage between possible first round opponents.

The Sabres are setting their sights on fourth place. The Sabres defense with the backup of Dominik Hasek, lead the league with allowing only 175 goals. This is three goals better than the Dallas Stars. The Stanley Cup playoffs means stellar defense, and the Sabres are right up there with the best of them. The offense has been coming around also, with the addition of Steve Heinze and Donald Audette at the trading deadline. Although neither of the new additions have been scoring as of late, just their potential has helped out the rest of the forwards. Miroslav Satan in particular has been red hot as of late. He has five goals in his last five games and this is the perfect time for Satan to get torrid.

Sunday's game in Tampa Bay had all the makings of another upset by a Florida team over the Sabres. John Emmons ended Dominik Hasek's shutout streak at 147 minutes, 38 seconds when he put one by the Sabres netminder 3:37 into the second stanza. Then 8 minutes later, Alexei Zhitnik made a remarkable play to tie the game. While on the power play, Zhitnik had the puck back near the blue line, as he wound up to put a slap shot on goal, a defenseman fell down to block his shot. Zhitnik maneuvered around him and put a wrist shot on goal that made its way through a maze of players and past Lightning goalie Kevin Weekes.

Big third gets Sabres rolling

If the Sabres wanted the two points, they were going to have to earn them and Weeks was a big obstacle in their way. While the Sabres could only muster one shot on goal in the first period, the started peppering Weeks with shots after that. Buffalo got off 10 on Weeks in the second and 14 in the final period. The third period was the one the Sabres were able to finally crack Week's shell. Three goals came, and two within one minute got the Sabres the victory.

Big Dave Andreychuk picked up his 19th goal of the season almost 7 minutes into the third period. The Sabres had a powerplay going and Andreychuk got into position to flip a rebound of a Donald Audette shot past Weeks. The powerplay goal gave Andreychuk his 236th power-play goal.

"Andreychuk does what he does best," lauded Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "He finds a way to get his hands on the puck, and I think that pretty much sums up the type of goals he scores."

Less than a minute later, the Sabres struck again and suddenly had a 3-1 lead. Curtis Brown put a shot on Weekes, and Satan was there to lift the rebound over the Tampa Bay goalie for his 28th of the season.

"They got a couple breaks and were Johnny-on-the-spot," said Weekes . "The two goals in the third period were the difference. I think we played well. We deserved better, but unfortunately we came out with another loss."

Pavel Kubina got the Lightning within one goal when Hasek went down to block the shot and he could not see the puck as Kubina shot the puck from the bottom of the left circle and it trickled through Hasek's pads.

"I didn't know where the puck was, so I just tried to cover the lower part of the net," described Hasek. "There was a tiny little hole by my helmet, just big enough for the puck to get through. I could feel the puck pass between my neck and the post."

Weekes was pulled with around a minute left in the contest in hopes that the Lightning could tie it up. Hasek was able to clear the puck up to Zhitnik, who threw a long shot that went off the boards towards the empty net. It slid and slid and just made it past the left goal post and hit the back of the net. Hasek was given an assist on Zhitnik's 8th goal of the season.

Sabres Talk

When Andreychuk signed a contract with the Sabres during the offseason, it was hoped that the former Sabre would help the powerplay. He has done that and more. The big left winger has been know to disappear at times in previous seasons, especially in the playoffs. The Sabres are more than pleased with his 19 goals so far this year and hope he continues to produce in the playoffs.

"This is a tough time of year," admitted Andreychuk. "Everybody's looking ahead to see who you're going to play and what position you're going to be in. The bottom line is we've got to keep playing the way we've played and building up for the playoffs."

Hasek was solid in goal, stopping 20 Lightning shots.

"I think the first 20 minutes, they were a better team," Hasek commented. "We came back after that first period and we were sort of in command. Even when they scored the first goal, I think we dominated."

Ruff agreed that the Lightning were the better team in the first period.

"In the first period, I thought Tampa Bay had the edge, and it looked like they could take control of the game," Ruff said. "But we really kicked it into high gear. The team has confidence that when we get in a situation where we're down by a goal, we have the firepower to get it in and not just tie it or win it, 2-1."

Jay McKee has seen more impressive wins.

"It was an ugly road win," McKee said. "We came in here with nothing fancy. We just wanted to get the job done."

Zhitnik has been having a much better season than last year. His shots are going on net with much more frequency and he has been leading the charge up the ice to help out the offense. Zhitnik has been a force on the Sabres powerplay.

"It's no secret, especially in the playoffs, that it is a big part of the game," said Zhitnik about the powerplay. "A couple of years ago, our power play almost won us the Stanley Cup. When a team is successful on the power play, it always picks everybody up."

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