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Sabres Central

Sabres steal one in Philly
By Rick Anderson
April 12, 2001

The Battle of the Czech Republic was Top Billing in Philadelphia Wednesday night. It was Dominik Hasek vs. Roman Cechmanek, the battle of the two Czech goalies. Cechmanek had beaten the Sabres four straight times in the regular season. But that was in the regular season, this was Game 1 of the opening round of the playoffs. This time it was Hasek who dominated in helping the Buffalo Sabres skate to a 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.

Dominated! Dominik Hasek makes the save on the Flyers' Mark Recchi as he takes a penalty shot in the first period of Game 1 in the first round playoffs between the Sabres and Flyers. Philadelphia.
[AP Photo/Miles Kennedy]

The Sabres were hoping to score any kind of goal on Cechmanek, who had become like a human barrier to the goal in the previous 4 regular season games. Having only netted two goals in those four games may have rattled the confidence of a lot of players. The Sabres were determined to not be snake bitten and have the fear of a Czech God when they closed in on Cechmanek.

Two first period goals by Chris Gratton and Doug Gilmour were all the Sabres needed to break the hex that Cechmanek had on the Sabres and Buffalo coasted to the victory thanks to the spectacular goaltending by Hasek. Hasek had to make 31 saves and his save on Mark Recchi's penalty shot was the pivotal play of the game. The Flyers tried to rattle Hasek by bumping into him, and pushing him around. At one point, Vaclav Varada pushed White into Hasek, causing Hasek to remain prone in inside the net for a couple minutes.

"They created a lot of traffic in front of me, they were knocking my defensemen down on me," commented Hasek. "If I didn't see the puck, it missed the net or it was knocked down."

Sabres pierce Cechmanek early

It was exactly what the doctor ordered! Get an early goal and get over the Cechmanek hex. Chris Gratton did the early exorcism of Cechmanek when a long shot from the left side of the right faceoff circle. The hard shot hit Cechmanek in the chest and dropped between the goalie's skates. The momentum of the shot made the puck fritter between his skates and into the net. Gilmour had set up the play with a beautiful pass to Gratton streaking over the middle on a two-on-one. Gratton's shot the puck from outside of the faceoff circle and Cechmanek's armor was pierced.

"Gratton surprised me," said Cechmanek. "It was a good shot toward the five-hole."

Donald Audette takes a spill after being checked by Philadelphia‘s Rick Tocchet in the first period of the opening game of the playoffs between Philadelphia and Buffalo.
[REUTERS Photo/Tim Shaffer ]

The Flyers had a great opportunity to tie it up when they were awarded a penalty shot after James Patrick covered the puck with his hand in a wild scramble in front of Hasek. Flyers coach Bill Barber decided to go with Recchi for the rare penalty shot opportunity. As Recchi skated in towards Hasek with the puck, he put a fake on the Sabres goalie, but Hasek held his ground. Finally, Recchi flipped the puck up high and Hasek batted it away with his glove. It was the turning point in the game.

"We decided to go with Recchi," Barber said. "Give Hasek credit, he made a big stop for them."

Late in the first period, the Sabres put some more pressure on Cechmanek and it resulted in the game winning goal. Donald Audette covering the left point, got off a blast that hit the big Flyers goalie. He gave up the rebound and it went right to Gilmour, who poked away at the puck until it deflected off Cechmanek's left pad and made the back of the net. Gilmour pumped his arms in wild celebration, something he has done rarely this season. With a goal and an assist, maybe Gilmour has his playoff game back. The Sabres certainly hope that is the case as they need his experience and his ability to feed the other Sabre guns.

"We forechecked well, the puck went out to Audette and I was able to poke it through,"said Gilmour .

"I'm well-rested," admitted Gilmour. "I ought to feel good. Not one of my nicer goals. But we'll take it. Obviously, I'm happy with the performance of all the guys tonight."

Best defense shoots down Flyers

The NHL's top defense smothered the Flyers in this game. Although the Flyers put constant pressure on Hasek while attacking in the Sabres zone, the defense did it's best to limit the most of the shots to the outside and minimize the best chances. The Flyers were awarded a four-minute power play thanks to a high sticking penalty to Miroslav Satan, who drew some blood to John LeClair. The Sabres defense withstood the pressure and didn't allow one shot on Hasek during that time span. In fact, the Flyers went the first 9 minutes with testing Hasek. The fans voiced their displeasure with a chorus of boos.

"I'm not going to sit here and attack our power play," defended Barber. "We'll probably have to make some adjustments to get in front of the net."

Meanwhile, Lindy Ruff was ecstatic about the defensive effort of his club.

"We played the game the same type of way the Flyers play," said Ruff. "Once you get the lead, you're going to have to earn (any comeback). We got the lead."

By winning the first game of the series, the Sabres claim the home ice advantage they gave away on Sunday when they lost to the Flyers in the regular season finale. This series appears as if it could go the limit, as the Flyers will be desperate to even it up Saturday afternoon in Philly.

Sabres Talk

The Sabres went all out to scout and research Cechmanek before the start of this playoff series. Hasek was one of the chief instructors of the Sabres shooters.

"We were prepared for him,"said Hasek. "He played his best hockey against us. Once the regular season is over, it doesn't count."

The Sabres studied game films of Cechmanek to try to find some holes. Obviously they succeeded.

"Video is a big part of the game now," said Gratton. "You want to get every advantage you can get. We saw some clips on him of the goals that have been scored on him. But he's a great goaltender. He's going to compete all series long. We just want to get as many shots as we possibly can on him."

The game plan of the Flyers was obvious. It was the same one they followed to a tee last season when they beat the Sabres in five games. Out-muscle the Sabres and knock Hasek around. The most ferocious hit that Hasek took was a result of Vaclav Varada knocking Peter White right into the Sabres netminder in the first period, right after the penalty shot. Hasek stayed down for a few minutes and it looked as if Martin Biron may have to go in for Hasek, but after a while and to the dismay of the booing Flyers fans, Hasek got up and was stellar the rest of the way.

"They created a lot of traffic in front of me, they were knocking my defensemen down on me," said Hasek. "If I didn't see the puck, it missed the net or it was knocked down."

"It was an extremely tight game," Ruff described "Overall it was our game plan to eliminate chances. There were some vicious one-on-one battles. If you win them in your own zone, you eliminate chances."

"I don't predict a short series, and I don't predict it's going to be easy," Ruff continued. "It wasn't easy out there tonight."

Hasek put a final word in about the game and the remainder of the series.

"It's great to be up, 1-0, but I think we need to win again,"said Hasek. "We need to win on Saturday. We know they're a good team and they'll probably win one game in Buffalo. We need to win one more game."


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