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Sabres Central

Flyers put on the brink by Brown's OT goal
By Rick Anderson
April 18, 2001

Game Winner! Vaclav Varada watches as Curtis Brown's overtime shot hits the top shelf and gets behind Flyers goalie Roman Cechmanek in the first overtime to give the Sabres a 4-3 victory..
[REUTERS Photo/Mark Dye]

Curtis Brown has been in the shadows all season. He picked a perfect time to grab the limelight and a hockey stick that wouldn't break.

In dramatic fashion, the Buffalo Sabres beat the Philadelphia Flyers in overtime Tuesday night in Buffalo's HSBC Arena as Brown's new stick did the trick to beat the Flyers 4-3. This was a game that had "loss" written all over it. The Sabres had started the game as if they were going to blow the Flyers out of the rink when they scored two goals just a little over 2 minutes into the game. The Flyers, however continued their resilient ways and battled back twice to force the overtime.

By beating the Flyers, the Sabres take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series. The teams go back to Philadelphia for Game 5 on Thursday. The Flyers will have to look back on last season to get inspiration. Last year, the Flyers came back from a 0-2 deficit in games to the Pittsburgh Penguins and won four straight to win that series. In the Eastern Conference Finals, they had a 3-1 lead over the New Jersey Devils. The Devils came back and won the next 3 to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. Now the Flyers have to keep believing in themselves. It has been done before and to prevent a short season, they will have to reach deep inside and pull the magic rabbit out of their helmets.

Brown finally shines

This has been a most difficult season for Brown. With Michael Peca's holdout, Brown was the man who had to take up the slack. He had to become even more defensive minded and was stuck out on the ice to shut down the opponents' top line, just like Peca had done in his previous successful seasons. What happened is that Brown's game deteriorated to the point where he seemed almost invisible on the ice. Later in the season, his game picked up some, but he was hardly ever on the score sheet. Tuesday night that all changed for Brown.

Brown went through 6 hockey sticks until he took some advice from Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek and go with a one-piece as opposed to the two-piece sticks he was used to. Hasek was concerned with the problem that Brown was having in the Sabres zone talking faceoffs, especially against faceoff ace Keith Primeau.

"I went and got a one-piece stick and there was the first shot with it," related Brown. "I don't know if I'll go with it next game or not, but old Dom, he pulled a good one there."

Then he joked saying, "I'm going to tape it up and use it the next game."

With six minutes gone by in the first overtime, Vaclav Varada headed the puck over to Brown, who circled the net. His sudden aggressive skating style fooled two Flyers and Brown was able to position himself into the slot area. Using his stick for the first time to shoot, Brown lifted the puck high over Roman Cechmanek's shoulder where it hit the roof of the net and bounced behind him. The sellout crowd at HSBC Arena went delirious. Brown had showed some moves that are reminiscent of Maxim Afinogenov.

"I thought Curtis was one guy who kept showing some moxie with the puck tonight," praised Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "When he got it, he wasn't just going to throw it somewhere. He juked and jived and beat a few guys. He came up ice a few times under control. You've got to realize: Playing against Primeau, Recchi and Gagne, you've got three of the fastest guys in the league on one line. That's no easy thing."

"I just wanted to get into a situation where I could shoot it," relayed Brown. "Luckily, it found a hole and a way in."

Hasek's gaffe could have cost the game

This overhead shot shows Dominik Hasek flopping on the puck during a wild scramble in the crease during the third period of Game 4 in Buffalo. The Sabres won this one in overtime 4-3.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

One of the happiest people in the Arena after Brown had scored was none other that Hasek. The Dominator allowed one of the worst-looking goals of the season in the third period that tied the score at 3 and forced the overtime.

Halfway through the third period and the Sabres on a powerplay, the Sabres coughed up the puck in their own zone and gave the Flyers a glorious opportunity to tie it up. Hasek was able to stop Paul Ranheim's shot from the left faceoff circle, but the momentum of the shot hit Hasek's stick and his own teammate, Alexei Zhitnik kicked it into the corner. That's when Hasek made a horrendous mistake that could have cost Buffalo the game. Failing to get the puck out of their own zone, Dan McGillis was able to get the puck at the point and he put a shot square on Hasek. The Sabres netminder was obviously uncomfortable without his stick and McGillis's shot handcuffed Hasek as it slowly trickled through his pads.

Being considered one of the best, if not the best goalies in the league, Hasek has got to make that save. There was absolutely no excuse that Hasek could make to defend allowing this inexcusable goal. But he did try to shift the blame to the defense for not being able to get it out while on a powerplay.

"Almost any time we make a turnover, it costs us a goal," defended Hasek. "Ten minutes left, you are on the power play, these things shouldn't happen. We cannot make mistakes like that."

When Brown scored the overtime goal, he raced down the ice and Hasek raced to great him, as Brown had saved him the embarrassment of being the goat in the game. Instead of meeting Brown and offering him his well deserved congratulations, Hasek slipped and fell as Brown raced past him. Hasek continued to slide towards the boards as the rest of the team caught up with Brown. That slip just capped off a game where Hasek just didn't seem as sharp as his counterpart, Cechmanek.

Sabres great start goes for naught

The Sabres opened up the game as if they were going to run up the score to 6.

Miroslav Satan was able to get the Sabres on the board quickly when he lifted a rebound over Cechmanek, who was prone on the ice. The goal came at only the 1:28 mark. The Sabres came right back and scored again when rent-a-player Donald Audette grabbed a Steven Heinze rebound and put it past Cechmanek and within 2:18 since the opening faceoff, the Sabres had a 2-0 lead and were ready to score more. But that's when Cechmanek shut the Sabres down, allowing a big Flyers' comeback.

Curtis Brown, who would score the game winner in overtime, gets a shot off on Flyer goalie Roman Cechmanek in the third period as Flyers' Keith Primeau stands guard.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

With five minutes remaining in the first period, the Flyers swarmed around Hasek and Daymond Langkow was able to grab the puck and put it behind Hasek, putting the Flyers back into the game. This is the style of the resilient Flyers, they continuously battle back until they get back in the game or the series.

The second period wasn't a minute old before the Flyers tied it up. Mark Recchi shot the puck in on Hasek and it took a strange hop off Simon Gagne's skate and then off Sabres defenseman James Patrick past Hasek. Suddenly the Flyers had grabbed the momentum of the game and the series by the throat and they weren't going to let go.

Chris Gratton was picked up by the Sabres at the trading deadline last season to help with the faceoffs and to add some size to the relatively small team. Last season, Gratton was a disappointment, as he didn't score any goals for the Sabres except for a lone empty-netter. This season, Gratton was able to score more goals this season and has been the Sabres best player in the playoffs against the Flyers so far in this series.

With under five minutes to play in the second stanza, Gratton scored his third goal in the series against his former team. Satan played the puck from behind the Flyers net and sent the puck to Gratton out in front. Gratton lifted the puck over Cechmanek's glove as it hit the crossbar and bounced behind the big Flyers goalie to put the Sabres in front 3-2.

In the third period, the Sabres went on another powerplay, but the defense was unable to get it out of the Sabres zone as Ruff put only one defenseman out on the ice and it cost the Sabres the lead and could have possibly cost them the game as Hasek allowed what appeared to be an innocent shot through his five-hole.

Can the Flyers come back?

History has lessons for the hockey buffs. The New York Islanders came back from 0-3 deficit to win a series in the early 80s. The Toronto Maple Leafs did the same thing in 1942. Last season these very Flyers overcame an early 0-2 deficit in games to beat the Penguins 4 straight. Then in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Devils overtook the Flyers after being down by this same 1-3 margin. Can the Flyers do it again?

"It's been done before," said Philly defenseman Andy Delmore. "You know, Jersey did it to us last year, so we know it can be done. It's not like we're down, 3-0. We've got our one, so we're going to have to be ready to go next game."

"We're going to need to elevate our game," added Flyers coach Bill Barber. "We can't look at it any other way, it's do or die."

The Flyers have to win all three games remaining to advance in the playoffs. It may not be Mission Impossible, but it is darn close to it.

Sabres Talk

Brown had so much trouble with his sticks that if it weren't for Hasek's comments to go to the single-piece stick, he may not have scored the winning goal. Brown was having problems with his faceoffs with Primeau and his sticks continuously were breaking.

"This is the truth I broke six of them,".Brown admitted. "I was getting a little discouraged there after awhile, racing back to the bench without a stick. I was hoping we had some more in the back room there."

That's when a worried Hasek just about ordered Brown to go with the one-piece unit.

"I've got to go look for some endorsement deals now for these one-piece sticks," joked Brown. "I'm not even sure I'll use it next game. I guess I'll wait to see if Dom yells at me again."

About the winning goal, Brown went into detail about how he managed to beat Cechmanek.

"It was a play where we just got it down low," said Brown. "That's the strength of our line. We're not fancy. We got it in deep and it was on the wall and I was walking out. First I was thinking of stuffing it and when that wasn't there, I just hung on to it. There was a little room to shoot it and I just snapped it and it found a way to the top."

Sabres defenseman Jay McKee talked about the odds of the Flyers coming back to win the series.

"I know the stats are there," McKee confirmed. "Everyone is going to start looking at the odds now of them coming back. But either team could have won all four games that we've played so far. By no means have we walked away with any game. It looks like it's in our favor, but we have to go out and work the way that we are."

Gratton talked about the Sabres giving up the lead in the third period.

"We're learning," Gratton said. "It was a little disappointing to let that (McGillis' goal) in. We had the lead, and we were on the power play. It was a letdown, but the guys did a really good job coming in here and regrouping and staying positive. It was almost like starting a brand new game. Everybody was revved up. The intensity was back again."

Hasek was very happy with the victory.

"We accomplished a win in a very important game," said Hasek. "We didn't want to go back to Philly with the series tied, 2-2. What can I say? We made some turnovers and some mistakes. But we found a way to win."

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