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Sabres Central

McKee shoots down the Flyers
By Rick Anderson
April 15, 2001

They just don't come any better than this!

The Buffalo Sabres gang up on hero Jay McKee after he scores the winning goal of Game Two against the Philadelphia Flyers in overtime. The Sabres won 4-3 to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the series.
[AP Photo/Miles Kennedy]

Jay McKee ended what was one of the most exciting overtimes in recent history when his long shot made it past Roman Cechmanek. With just under two minutes remaining in the first overtime, Erik Rasmussen passed over to McKee coming over the middle and the Sabres defenseman went through the left faceoff circle and put the puck down low and Cechmanek could not stop it with his glove. The resulting goal not only gave the Buffalo Sabres a dramatic 4-3 overtime victory over the Philadelphia Flyers but a 2-0 lead in the series.

The Sabres kept on fighting back. Down twice by a goal, the Sabres finally tied it up in the third period and late in the first overtime won it on McKee's wrist shot that fooled Cechmanek for the fourth time in the game.

In two playoff games, Cechmanek has allowed 6 goals. In contrast, during four regular season games, the Czech Republic Olympic gold medal team's backup to Hasek, allowed only two goals. The Sabres seem to have found the "holes" that Hasek was referring to when Cechmanek helped beat the Sabres in the last regular season game. At that time, Cechmanek seemed to be unbeatable and he had a spell cast upon the Sabres shooters. Now suddenly, Cechmanek seems to be easy pray for the snipers wearing black and red.

Sabres escape Philly victorious

One week ago, the Sabres and their fans were scratching their heads. The Flyers had just beaten Buffalo for the fourth straight time in the regular season and their goalie had a 0.50 GAA against them in those games. They would have to face that same Flyer team in the opening round of the playoffs. Just how were they to beat the team that eliminated them in five games the previous year with a goalie who didn't have a hex over them like Cechmanek did?

Enter one Dominik Hasek. He had the answer. Hasek insisted that the Czech goalie did indeed have some "holes" in his game and he was determined to help out the forwards on the team find them. The teacher seems to have taught his pupils well. After leaving the City of Brotherly Love with two wins in hand, the Sabres seem determined to finish off the Flyers as quickly as possible.

The Flyers, on the other hand, maintain that they can come back and make this a series again. Why they faced the same scenario last year against the Penguins. Being down two games to none, the Flyers came back to win that series and eventually go all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. No big sweat, they maintain.

"We're in a bit of a hole, but it's not impossible to climb out of," said John LeClair. "We found that out last year."

The two games in Buffalo on Monday and Tuesday will be interesting to say the least. The Flyers have been in each game and have had the definite momentum during great portions of each game, but have fallen short twice. Now they must do what the Sabres have done - win twice on the road to regain home ice advantage again.

Canceled Czech

The Battle of the Czech Republic Part II was different than the first one in the playoffs and very contrary from the four regular season games where Cechmanek only allowed 2 goals in 4 games.

Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek stops Flyers winger Paul Ranheim as he gets in alone on Hasek during the first period.
[REUTERS Photo/Tim Shaffer]

This game was not the typical Czechmate game where goals are at a premium and both goalies were brick walls. Both allowed goals through their pads, Cechmanek did it on the first three Buffalo tallies. Hasek blocked 32 Flyer shots and had to be his best in overtime when he stopped 10 Philly shot. Cechmanek make 37 saves and stopped two shots in the second period which were point-blank and Erik Rasmussen's breakaway in overtime.

The overtime was like a basketball game where both teams were charging back and forth and the goalies had to be spectacular to keep the other team from winning. Hasek had to do his snow angel impression several times and Cechmanek stonewalled the Sabres on every glorious opportunity.

"The overtime alone was worth the price of admission," exclaimed Sabres coach Lindy Ruff.

Hasek was impressed with the great game that Cechmanek played.

"He played an outstanding game," Hasek said. "You can't blame Roman for any of the goals."

Circle the wagons

Chris Berman of ESPN used to say, "No one circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills" in reference to their ability to take defeat and turn it into victory. The Sabres seem to be following the same route. Defeat was written on the walls of the Sabres dressing room before the game and after the first and second periods when they were trailing the Flyers. The Sabres had won their one road game and to win the second one was very improbable under the circumstances. Or was it? Circle the wagons and come out fighting.

The Sabres did just that as they battled back from being behind after the first two periods to tie it and go into sudden death overtime. McKee fired the final shot to end this second battle of the first round war.

The Flyers opened the scoring after they were awarded a two man advantage. Putting on pressure around Hasek, John LeClair was able to thread a pass in front of the Sabres goalie to Daymond Langkow, who had an easy tip in for the score. Hasek could have prevented the goal by blocking the pass with his stick. The goal came at the 13:13 mark of the first period.

The Sabres were able to tie the game with a powerplay goal of their own very early in the second period. Chris Gratton got the puck over to Miroslav Satan, and Satan's shot went through Cechmanek's pad 47 seconds into the period.

The Sabres were able to take their only lead of the game until McKee's O.T. goal when Alexei Zhitnik took a long shot from the left point that glanced off Dan McGillis's skate and went through Cechmanek's pads again.

That lead didn't last long as the Flyers scored two goals under two minutes apart. LeClair got the game tied again when he broke down the left side after a nice pass from former Sabre Derek Plante. Taking a shot from the right faceoff circle, LeClair blistered a shot through Hasek's pads.

The Flyers regained the lead only 1:41 later as Mark Recchi slapped away at the puck between Hasek's pads after the Sabres goalie had stopped a shot by Michal Sykora. Hasek complained that the refs should have whistled the play dead, but the goal stood and the Sabres had another uphill battle. Cechmanek kept the Sabres off the boards until 3:09 in the third period. Off the faceoff in the Flyers zone, Vaclav Varada got the puck over to Curtis Brown, who curled around two defensemen and shot the puck in Cechmanek's "soft zone" between his pads for the tying goal. With 3:09 left in regulation, it was almost assured that the game was heading into overtime.

It appeared as if the game would go into double overtime until Erik Rasmussen forced two defensemen to follow him towards the right corner and he suddenly turned around and found McKee flying in over the middle. Getting his pass, McKee entered the left faceoff circle and fired a change-up shot that baffled the 30-year old Czech goalie for the win.

"It was the biggest goal I ever scored," exclaimed a jubilant McKee. "I just hopped on the ice after a line change and I started going hard into the zone. I got a great pass from Erik. I was just hoping for a rebound, but I was lucky to catch the far side."

"I raised my stick and thought it was in," McKee continued. "But I wasn't too sure until the guys started screaming on the ice. It's kind of hard to believe."

Rasmussen was hoping that his pass to McKee found it's mark.

"I was hoping to God it hit his stick and stayed there," Rasmussen recalled. "Because I've seen a few times where I've passed to Jay and it's blown up. That's just Jay, though."

Now the two teams shuffle off to Buffalo for Games 3 & 4 on Monday and Tuesday. The Flyers backs are up against the wall like they were last year when the Penguins had them down two games to none. The big question is whether the Flyers can come back two years in a row?

"It's always tough when you're down, 2-0, but we were in this situation last year,"said Recchi. And then he made a prediction. "We'll go back to Buffalo and steal one on Monday and then take Game Four."

Sabres Talk

McKee was in a land of bliss after scoring the game winner.

"I don't score a lot of goals." said McKee. "Any goal is great for me. I just hopped on the ice and Erik gave me a great pass. I tried to get the shot on the net. Anytime you score in the overtime, it's a good feeling."

McKee also noted the "Circles the wagons" attitude of the Sabres.

"Give credit to our guys for that," McKee said. "We got down and they had a lot of momentum. They were really coming hard and had us hemmed in our zone for a while. To go out and get a goal in the third period to tie it and to score in overtime is a big lift for us."

Brown, who's third period goal tied the game up and sent it into overtime said, "The teams are so tightly matched that you could probably play for days and come out of it up one or down one."

Then Brown described the play that tied it in the third period.

"It was a play you see quite often," recounted Brown. "It was just a broken play where, bam, you get a little chance. It was 50-50 on which way you go around the pile. I went right and the puck was there. I snapped it quick and it found the back of the net."

Ruff was in great spirits after the game.

"It was one heckuva hockey game," Ruff said. "We traded chances and we won by the narrowest of margins. We're up 2-0 now going back to our own building. I thought their game was raised to another level."

"It wasn't about coaching, it was the players playing hard," Ruff deflected the glory to his players. To get a goal from one of your defenseman scoring a big goal was a big bonus for us."

About the Sabres chances of putting the Flyers away in Buffalo, Ruff said, "We know they have some great veteran characters on that team and by no means I don't think it's going to be easy"

Flyers coach Bill Barber has try to get his team back in the series somehow.

"We've got to find a way to regroup make sure we're ready to take our road game with us and make a series out of it," Barber said. Then he praised Hasek's effort. "He kept them in the game.. We had some real good opportunities and couldn't put it away."

"We still have five games to win four," commented Eric Desjardins, Flyers defenseman. "It's not the position you want to be put in, especially going on the road. It's not going to be easy."

The Sabres seem to be sensing something big the way they are starting off the playoffs.

"I think you see it in the way we're playing," described Rasmussen. "You look at the way every guy on our team is competing right now. You do feel it a little bit. It's not an easy series. No one is dominating. You have to have little plays along the boards and everything. That's what we're getting right now. Big plays from everybody."


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