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Sabres Central

Rookie goalie thwarts Sabres as Pens win Game 1
By Rick Anderson
April 27, 2001

Before the First Round series with the Philadelphia Flyers, Dominik Hasek helped school the Sabres shooters about how to find the holes in Roman Cechmanek's game. Now he has an even bigger task: to find a weak spot in Johan Hedberg's game. That is what the entire Buffalo Sabres coaching staff will be trying to uncover before Saturday's Game Two against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Thursday night in HSBC Arena, the Penguins took it to the Sabres, beating them 3-0. Hedberg was instrumental in shutting down the Sabres offense that had scored 8 goals in their previous series-clinching game against the Flyers.

Mario Lemieux scores the game-winner after he takes a blast on Dominik Hasek in the first period. The Penguins prevailed to win Game One of the series 3-0.
[AP Photo/Harry Scull Jr.]

If Sabres coach Lindy Ruff cannot find any holes in Hedberg's style, then the Sabres had better get their golf clubs ready for early tee off times next week as the Penguins will make mince meat of Buffalo. Hedberg made 25 saves in recording second shutout of the playoffs. He had the Sabres shooters shaking their heads most of the game. In the 7 games he has played in the post season, Hedberg has given up only 10 goals. The rookie was acquired from the San Jose Sharks at the trading deadline and has taken the city of Pittsburgh by storm. With the Sharks, he was their fourth string goalie. His sudden rise to fame has the Penguin fans talking Stanley Cup finals. Hedberg will turn 28 on May 5. The way he is playing, the Penguins may already have advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals by then. If the series possibly goes 5 games, the fifth game will be in Pittsburgh on May 5th, his birthday. What a better birthday present than to advance to the Finals that day.

The Sabres will have to find a way to score if they want to even play on Hedberg's birthday. That will be a tough task after seeing how he shut them down in Game One.

Being only 6 foot tall and weighing 185, Hedberg is much smaller in stature than Cechmanek is. However, the Sabres will have to start shooting at other places than in the middle of his body if they want any chance of scoring on him.

"He's been unbelievable for us," Penguins defenseman Darius Kasparaitis said. "It has to be 20-guy effort but tonight it was one guy. My hat's off to Yo-Yo because he played great. And hopefully he's going to play like that because we need good goaltending. Yo-Yo, nobody knows him, but he's becoming a good goalie, especially in the playoffs."

Four on one leads to disaster

The Penguins got the only goal they needed only 5:07 into 1st period. With both teams having a man in the penalty box, the Sabres were faced with a situation with Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr on the ice with more room for them to skate.

With Jagr chasing after the puck near the left boards, all 4 Sabres on the ice decided to go after him. Jagr saw Lemieux coming up ice along the right side and somehow made a spectacular pass from behind his back that had radar for Mario's stick. With no one left to cover Lemieux, he skated in alone on Hasek and wound up for a slap shot. He rifled a shot that Hasek didn't even seem to see as it beat the Sabres goalie on the stick side.

"When those players are on the ice, you have to look over your shoulder," said Chris Gratton. "There were a couple of us who didn't look over our shoulder. Jagr made a great pass. Not a lot of guys can make a pass like that."

After that, the Sabres had their chances to tie up the game but never made the most of them as Hedberg was stellar in the nets, making 6 saves in the first, 13 in the second and 6 more saves in the final period. The Sabres did put a lot of their shots dead center on Hedberg's body, but when called upon to make a great save, he was there.

With Jagr out, the Pens open up the flood gates

Late in the second stanza, Jagr suffered what was called a "charley horse." He did not come back for the final period, but the Pens did not need him as they made Hasek look foolish on two plays the put the Sabres out for good.

At the 14 minute mark, Josef Beranek put a shot on net that Hasek blocked, but the rebound went out to Jan Hrdina, who tucked it between Hasek's pads to make it 2-0. That was a shot that Hasek should have definitely blocked and it would have been a routine save for Hedberg.

With only 2:20 remaining in the game, Wayne Primeau, an ex-Sabre, added insult to injury when he went in on Hasek and forced the Sabres goalie to commit himself by going down and Primeau went top shelf icing the game once and for all.

All the doomsday Sabres fans are predicting an ultimate Sabres defeat in this second round after the Sabres failed to win Game 1. However, this series is a long ways from being over. In order to get right back into the series, the Sabres absolutely have to win Saturday's Game Two. A loss to the Pens would put the Sabres in the exact same position that the Flyers were in during their series with the Sabres when they lost the first two games at home. Also, winning at Pittsburgh's Melon Arena will be a difficult time with their avid fans definitely giving the Penguins an advantage.

Sabres Talk

There has been much speculation as to the exact nature of Jagr's leg injury. No one will really know until game time on Saturday if Jagr's injury is actually serious enough to keep him out of the game. Most think that the Penguins and their coach will keep the Sabres guessing up until they drop the puck to start Game Two.

"I tried to play but I couldn't," confessed Jagr after the game.

Lemieux was quick to give Jagr kudos after his splendid pass that turned out to get Mario the game winning goal.

"He played great tonight," Lemieux praised Jagr. "He was on the puck and skating well. He wanted the puck. He has to do it. I have to do it. The leaders in here have to play at a different level. It starts with myself, and Jagr's the same way. Hopefully, he understands it."

Super Mario was at his best on this night and his very presence on the ice seemed to catch the Sabres flatfooted as they seemed to be in awe of his prowesses. But for some reason, on the first goal, the Sabres forgot completely about him and everyone swooned on his linemate, Jagr with dire consequences.

"All we had was four guys staring at the puck," commented Ruff. "They made a quick change and got Mario out there. If you want to give Mario the blue line in to tee it up, I'd give him three out of four he's going to score on."

"We made some big mistakes," Ruff continued. "We didn't play well enough to win the game."

Lemieux knew that whoever scored the first goal would have the extreme advantage in this one.

"We always want to score first," insisted Lemieux. "It gives us a lot of confidence with the defense that we have now. We feel that one or two goals should be enough for us to win the game."

The star of the game was Hedberg. The Swedish goalie made the stops that he had to make, especially the save of the game which came on James Patrick's shot in the third period. Patrick picked up a loose puck and quickly cannoned a shot to the point that Hedberg had just vacated. In order prevent the tying goal, Hedberg had to snap his catching mitt back to catch the bullet shot.

"That was the turning point of the game," said Kasparaitis. "He made the big save and it was a 1-0 game. I think our team just lifted, got a big boost from the save."

Patrick was dumbfounded by the quick reaction by the former fourth string goalie.

"I tried to get it up as high as I could and I thought I did get some height on it," described Patrick. "But either I shot it right into his glove or he made a great save. Give him credit on that one, that's for sure."

Hedberg, who didn't know what his future would be in the NHL before being traded from San Jose to Pittsburgh at the trading deadline, is also surprised about his sudden ascent to the top.

"This is something I've been working for my whole life," admitted Hedberg. "When I came here, I didn't know if I could play in the NHL or not. I dreamt of it, I worked on it but since I hadn't done it, I didn't know if I could do it. Things have just been rolling along."

Lemieux, owner and star-supreme, was impressed as anyone over the rookie's performance so far in the playoffs.

"It's a big plus (Hedberg)," Lemieux lauded. "Buffalo's had that for many years with Dominik here. They know if they make a mistake, they've got their goalie back there who'll usually make the stop. That's the feeling we have with Hedberg."

Meanwhile, Hasek was licking his mental wounds.

"The way we played and approached the game, it was disappointing for everyone here," said a disappointed Hasek. "There was something missing. It didn't look like we played a playoff game."

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