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Sabres Central

Sabres pierce Hedberg's bubble
By Rick Anderson
May 1, 2001

Johan Hedberg makes one of his 26 saves in the second stanza against Sabres winger Donald Audette.
[AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar]

The Buffalo Sabres may have finally found a way to get the puck past Johan Hedberg. They put 3 past the Swedish goalie Monday night In the Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh. But it still wasn't easy as the 27-year old rookie made 26 saves and was spectacular in preventing the Sabres from running up the score. Even so, the Sabres won their first game of the series over the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-1. Three goals got by Hedberg and the fourth one was an empty netter by James Patrick with 21 seconds left in the game.

This was a game the Sabres absolutely had to win. A loss, and the Sabres would be down 3-0 in games and one more remaining in Pittsburgh. They still aren't out of the woods yet but the Sabres can get right back into the series if they win Game 4 in Pittsburgh Wednesday.

"We've given ourselves a chance now," said Rhett Warrener. "We started to climb out of the hole we dug for ourselves. To get the rest of the way out, we've gotta win."

In the first two games in Buffalo, Hedberg stole the show and kept the Penguins in the games until the offense could take advantage of any break that came their way. In Game 3, Hedberg was tested even more than he was in the first two games. If it weren't for his remarkable goaltending, the Penguins could have easily found themselves in a similar hole as the Philadelphia Flyers found themselves in the last game of their series against Buffalo when the Sabres blasted them 8-0.

"We had a chance to bury them early,"said Kevin Stevens. "But I don't think they stole a game. They jumped on us good. Maybe we could have had four goals in the first period, but they could have had seven in the second."

Sabres roar back

The Penguins took the lead in this game when they got a powerplay goal from Stevens, who deflected a hard shot by Andrew Ference past Hasek 5:34 into 2nd period . The Penguins were unbeaten when they scored the first goal of the game and they were determined to continue their streak.

Down and out! Penguins goalie Johan Hedberg lies face down after being beaten by Sabres winger Miroslav Satan in the third period.
[AP Photo/Keith Srakocic]

Seven and a half minutes after Stevens goal, the Sabres finally made a game of it when Curtis Brown notched it all up with his third goal of the playoffs. Marc Bergevin tried to clear the puck along the boards but Vaclav Varada took control and passed it over to Patrick. Patrick sent the puck to Brown who sent a one-timer that bounced off Ference's leg and past Hedberg.

The game remained tied until 9:51 in the third period when the Sabres finally were able to puncture Hedberg's bubble. Doug Gilmour has been playing his most intense hockey of the season during these playoffs and his mastery of the puck showed again Monday night as his radar vision tracked Woolley blazing in to the left of Hedberg and Gilmour threaded the needle from behind the net, putting the puck squarely on the stick of the Sabres defenseman. Woolley had no trouble hammering it home into the wide open corner of the net. The Sabres had their first lead of the series and suddenly the Sabres were like sharks, swarming around Hedberg with the taste of blood.

"We did what they did to us," voiced Gilmour. "When they came into our building, they waited and waited, and when they had some chances they capitalized. We had to be patient, too."

Three minutes later Maxim Afinogenov and Miroslav Satan combined on one of the prettiest goals of the playoffs thus far. Afinogenov, with his patented moves, faked Kasparaitis out of his shorts and then passed off to Satan who raced around the net like a demon on skates. Satan's circle around Hedberg must have made the rookie dizzy as the Sabres' winger circle of doom closed directly at the other end and resulted in a breathtaking wraparound goal. Satan stuffed the puck under the pads of Hedberg before the Swedish goalie could utter "hades" in his native tongue.

"I tried to shoot a backhand," Satan described, "but he's such a great goalie, and I saw that he came out so quick. So basically there was nothing to shoot at. So I tried to go around the net. I risked it, but I made it. I was lucky to score."

The Sabres knew they finally had the Penguins just where they wanted them and maybe just maybe they had finally solved the "Curse of Hedberg."

Buffalo kept the pressure on Hedberg as they got 11 shot on net during the final stanza. The Penguins pulled Hedberg while there was over 2 minutes left but could not generate any great scoring opportunities. Finally, Patrick was able to clear the puck down the ice and into the net with 21 ticks left on the clock.

The Sabres now feel that they have a new life and hope to carry their momentum into Game 4 Wednesday night. If Buffalo wins that one, the series will be dead even and the Sabres will once again gain home ice advantage, if that means anything during this series of the "road warriors." A loss Wednesday will put the Sabres on the brink of elimination again, and Sabres coach Lindy Ruff definitely does not want that to happen.

Sabres Talk

The two opposing goalies from Europe had their say after the game.

Mario Lemieux aims for the open side of the net but Sabres defenseman Rhett Warrener saves the day by blocking the shot.
[AP Photo/Gary Tramontina]

"They got the bounces that we got the first two games," referred Hedberg to a couple goals the Pens scored off Sabres players on Saturday. "Sometimes it's going to go that way."

Dominik Hasek, meanwhile, was blessing this extra goalie equipment, namely a couple of golden goal posts that saved him early in the game.

"After they hit the post a couple times early, we dominated the game," said Hasek. "We deserved to win."

Ruff was counting his blessing also, but knew that his club put in a solid effort to stay in the series.

"I think the key was we got three good saves in the first period,." Ruff said about Hasek's early game heroics. "We won the one-on-one battles. I mentioned three days ago, if we were going to win the series, our big guns would have to show up."

"They're a great hockey club and we have to play our best game," Ruff continued. "It will take a bigger effort to win the game on Wednesday. We're trying not to get too high or too low." He had praise for Zhitnik and Smehlik who gave the Sabres a big lift. Ruff also said, "We scored some nice goals, but he (Hedberg) made some nice saves and I don't see him cracking."

Woolley, who scored the winning goal, was impressed with the work the coaching staff did to get the Sabres on the score sheet at last.

"The coaches had a good game plan," said Woolley. "They didn't come in here and say, "We'll win the next game because we're due.' We made changes and they worked. Hopefully, they'll work again next game."

Hasek had a word of warning for his teammates: be prepared for a much different game on Wednesday from the Penguins.

"We have to continue to play the same way," insisted Hasek. "I'm sure they will play better the next game. They will play harder, that's for sure. They were flat today for the last 40 minutes."

The big question is whether Jaromir Jagr will be in the lineup come Wednesday. His mysterious "charley horse" as suddenly migrated up to his shoulder. The exact nature of his shoulder injury remains a mystery.

He has been seen skating effortlessly in practice, but he has been seen to be winching when the shoots.

"Everybody knows, if they see me skate, of course it's not a charley horse," admitted Jagr. "If I say I cannot shoot, you think it's my charley horse. I thought I was going to be ready (for Game 3); that's what I thought before. I was not. Hopefully, Wednesday."

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