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Sabres Central

Pens put the Sabres in dire straits
By Rick Anderson
April 29, 2001

Jay McKee gets a hold of the Pens Martin Straka during the first period, while Donald Audette (28) attempts to get the puck out of danger.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

The Sabres finally scored a goal on Johan Hedberg. After 94 minutes and 44 seconds, the Sabres finally got the puck behind the rookie Penguins goalie Johan Hedberg However, a fluke bounce 8:09 into 3rd period resulted in a Penguins goal and Pittsburgh went on to beat the Buffalo Sabres for the second straight time in Buffalo's HSBC Arena to take a commanding two games to none lead in the second round series between the two teams.

The Sabres have not been able to buy a break in the series thus far. Not only are pucks going into their net with weird bounces, but Buffalo's shooters are snakebitten and can't put the puck past Hedberg.

With the Penguins up 1-0, the Sabres finally were able to put the rubber past the Swedish goalie when Stu Barnes labeled the far corner and got the game tied up with a power play goal. Miroslav Satan, who has been shutdown so far by the Penguins, passed the puck over to Barnes in the left faceoff circle. Barnes drifted towards Hedberg looking for an opening and finally put the puck over Hedberg's glove and it barely missed hitting the outside post. The puck went into the upper corner and the Sabres finally had new life. If they had been able to score again, it would have been a different series, but Lady Luck had something else in store for the home team.

Game winner a fluke

Penguin goalie Johan Hedberg gets his helmet knocked off after defenseman Hans Jonsson runs into him along with Sabres forward Dave Andreychuk during the second stanza. Hedberg came all the way out to get the puck out of danger but wound up getting clobbered.
[REUTERS Photo/Kyle Adema ]

With the game tied at 1-1, Sabres fans were hoping that the Sabres would finally take a lead in this series. A weird goal would decide the game and put the Sabres the terrible position of being down 2 games going into Pittsburgh.

Eight minutes into the final period, the Pens were putting the pressure on Hasek. Andrew Ference put a shot towards the Buffalo goal and it bounced off James Patrick's back and into the net.

"That was a horrible shot," admitted Ference. "I couldn't really shoot it directly at the goalie because the guy was going to block it. So I just tried to put it off, but not like that. It just kind of flubbed off my stick."

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff bemoaned the fact that Buffalo hadn't caught a break yet.

"We haven't really caught a bounce yet," said Ruff. "You've got to work to make your breaks. We worked hard enough to get some. But they took advantage in the last 30 minutes."

The Penguins got a lucky bounce on their first goal also. Halfway through the second stanza, Robert Lang put a shot that ricocheted off the post and it then hit Hasek's elbow and fluttered into the goal. Luck was completely on the side of the Penguins and they took full advantage of it. After Lang's goal, one could feel the air being sucked out of the Arena as the Sabres fans knew it was going to be difficult to come back with the phenomenal Swedish goalie at the other end of the ice blocking every shot.

The Penguins scored their third goal late in the final period as Alexei Kovalev put it into the empty net with only 3 seconds remaining in the game as Hasek was pulled for the extra attacker.

Zhitnik and McKee get concussions

Super Mario! Mario Lemieux skates through Sabres' defensemen James Patrick (3) and Alexei Zhitnik (44) in the first period of Game 2. Zhitnik would go down with a concussion.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

The Sabres suddenly found themselves extremely shorthanded at the blueline as both Jay McKee and Alexei Zhitnik we felled with concussions. With around 5 minutes left in the first period, Zhitnik skated over the middle and to avoid another Penguin, he left himself open for a devastating hit by another Alexei, Alexei Kovalev. Kovalev slammed his elbow into Zhitnik's chin and forced the Sabres top defenseman to land head first to the ice. There was no penalty called on the play to the chagrin of Ruff.

"I watched two replays where it's elbow on chin," described Ruff. "In my determination, from what I've seen, that will be dealt with. That was a blow where his elbow is up, he hits Zhitnik on the chin. Those are the type of things (the league) is trying to eliminate."

Kovalev claims that he did no wrong, that his hit was clean.

"He dropped his head and I can finish my check," said Kovalev. "I felt my elbow was next to my body. I turned sideways and hit him with the shoulder."

Zhitnik described what he felt when hit.

"I can't say I was completely (conscious),"said Zhitnik about the hit. "I saw the ceiling. I saw the Jumbotron. I got hit pretty hard."

"I've had concussions before that were much worse, and I played in two or three days," Zhitnik continued. "It could be much worse. I feel pretty good. Usually I get a headache or some dizziness. For 10 or 15 minutes, I was uncomfortable. Right now, I'm maybe 70 or 75 percent."

With McKee, he delivered an solid hit to Penguins' superstar Mario Lemieux. Both players fell to the ice and McKee wound up the worse casualty. He came up bleeding from both his nose and mouth along with cuts on his face.

"Mario's head snapped off the side of Jay's helmet and got Jay right in the cheek," said Ruff. "They both took a pretty good shot there. It was a determined play on Jay's part to step up and send a message."

"Everybody wants to hit Mario, but he's huge," described the Pens defenseman Andrew Ference. "He's a beast out there. Everybody thinks he's just this pretty player who has great hands. But he's tough as nails. It's hard to hit him. As he said before the series started, if you hit him, usually you'll come out on the bad end."

Now the Sabres will be without both defensemen for Monday's game in Pittsburgh. They will have to go to Brian Campbell and Doug Houda to replace the two injured Sabres defensemen. That puts the Sabres in an even deeper hole as they try to get back into the series down 0-2.

"You have to take it as a must win," said Rhett Warrener about Game 3 in Pittsburgh Monday. "You have to put all your cards on the table and make sure when you come in after the game that everything has been spent. And you get a W."

Sabres Talk

Even though the Sabres lost, they felt that they played a good game.

"We gave it everything we had," said Donald Audette . "The puck just didn't bounce our way. ... We played the best we can."

Ruff seconded that thought.

"The effort we got with Zhitnik and McKee out of the lineup was great," said Ruff. "I thought the guys were determined to win one for the two guys out of the lineup. I thought our forwards in the last 35 minutes did a great job. "We had 6 or 7 great opportunities but we didn't bury it. What hurt us was losing two key members."

The Penguins know that the series isn't over quite yet. They were up on the Flyers last year 2-0 and lost 4 straight to be eliminated.

"This is playoff hockey, and it's not going to be easy games especially going home," said Darius Kasparaitis. "We have pressure on ourselves to win the hockey game at home. I think Buffalo is going to be a little looser. And I think they're going to play looser and have more fun than they had here."


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