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Sabres Central

Sabres put in Czech again by Cechmanek
By Rick Anderson
April 9, 2001

In a preview to the upcoming playoff series between the Buffalo Sabres and the Philadelphia Flyers, the Flyers put the Sabres in their place for the fourth time this season by beating them 2-1 in sunny and warm downtown Buffalo on Sunday. It may have been a beautiful day outside HSBC Arena, but it was raining in the Sabres dressing room after the game.

Hasek makes a sprawling save on Flyers center Simon Gagne in the second stanza. Hasek only had to make 15 saves, compared to his Czech countryman Roman Cechmanek, who made 36 saves. Hasek has yet to beat Cechmanek in 4 tries.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

The Sabres have been put into Czech-mate by Flyer goalie roman Cechmanek four times this season. They have been shutout twice in the four games and scored only two goals on him in the whole season. The playoff picture looks bleak indeed if the Sabres cannot find a way to solve Cechmanek. The way Dominik Hasek's former backup for the Czech Republic has been playing against his team, the Sabres will not only have to be weary of being swept in the upcoming opening playoff series, but will be lucky to score any goals on this "rookie" sensation. Scoring two goals in four games is not a ticket to advance in the playoffs. In fact, the way Cechmanek has been stonewalling Buffalo, two goals may be a stretch for the Sabres forwards to get against him in the playoffs.

Cechmanek made 36 saves, including stopping Doug Gilmour on two breakaways, and was the difference in the game that determined who would get home ice advantage between the Sabres and the Flyers. Trying to penetrate the huge barrier that he has erected in front of the Flyers net will be the No. 1 challenge that Sabres coach Lindy Ruff faces going into the first round.

Sabres held in Czech

It was the battle of Czech Republic Olympic goalies, Hasek vs. Cechmanek. For the fourth time this season, it was the former backup beating the proclaimed World's best goalie. Cechmanek not only seems to have the Sabres number, but also seems to be getting into his former mentor's head. He has completely outplayed Hasek in all four contests so far and looks like he will continue his phenomenal goaltending against the Sabres in the playoffs.

The two goalies battled it out in the first two periods, not allowing a goal But the disaster struck for the Sabres early in the third period. Former Sabre Derek Plante was able to break the scoreless deadlock only 57 seconds into the final stanza. There was a two-on-one break, that Hasek was able to initially stop, but then Plante poked in the rebound and the air suddenly seemed to get sucked out of the HSBC Arena, as fans and Sabres alike knew that it was going to be very difficult to score on Cechmanek.

The Sabres were finally able to score on Cechmanek for the first time in 5 periods when Donald Audette was able to get one past the Czech goalie and the game was suddenly tied. Miroslav Satan put a shot on Cechmanek and the rebound came out to Audette, who banged his second Sabres tally since coming over in a trade with Atlanta. The goal came at the 6:33 mark and the Sabres had a sudden surge of energy. That would quickly dissipate when the Flyers scored the winning goal about 6 minutes later. The Flyers came storming down the ice after Cechmanek made a good stop on Stu Barnes. Ruslan Fedotenko crossed over the middle and rifled a shot that got between Hasek's glove and the right goal post. It was a perfect labeled shot and that punctured the Sabres bubble.

"For sure I could have had the puck," said a disappointed Hasek. "I went down too soon."

Actually Hasek hadn't gone down, but just sort of waived at the puck as it whizzed past him into the top corner.

Gilmour foiled twice

Gilmour had two clean breakaways on Cechmanek and the Czech goalie made each save look routine. Miroslav Satan clanked the puck off the crossbar early in the first period, and from then on, it was Cechmanek who brought nothing but bad luck to the Sabres shooters until Audette finally was able to hit the back of the net.

The Flyers put the squeeze on Sabres right winger Vaclav Varada. Flyers defenseman Luke Richardson (22) along with Flyers center Daymond Langkow, but a vice squeeze on Varada in the first period, preventing him from penetrating the Flyers zone.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

What does this mean for the Sabres upcoming first round series against these same Flyers? The Sabres seem to match up with the Flyers in every way except for goaltending. If the regular season results mean anything, then the Flyers have a huge advantage in this position. Sure, Hasek helped the Sabres win the Jennings Trophy with Buffalo allowing the least amount of goals in the NHL. But with Cechmanek's hex over the Sabres shooters, Hasek will have to play perfect goaltending if the Sabres want any chance of winning even one game. Cechmanek's invisible shield seems 3 inches thick and it will take a complete turnaround for the Sabres to crack it in the playoffs.

Hasek has never beaten his old backup from the Olympic gold medal winning Czech Republic team. The Sabres have scored only 2 goals on Cechmanek, while the Flyers have lit the lamp 10 times in the four games this season. Could Cechmanek be getting into Hasek's head? He certainly is in the head of the Buffalo forwards. They will have to find a way to penetrate his invisible shield if they want to even extend the series more than four games.

Hasek went so far as to offer advice to the Sabres shooters on Cechmanek's weaknesses, if he does possess any.

"The way we played, I think we can beat them," said a confident Hasek. "I believe we can do it. I see many places to score (on Cechmanek). I don't see any reason why we shouldn't score two, three, maybe four goals a game."

That was easy for Hasek to say. He doesn't have to shoot at his former teammate.

The past offers no hope

Past records are also against the Sabres. The last six times these teams have met in the playoffs, the Sabres have won but one series. Last season is still fresh in the minds of Sabres fans as the Flyers eliminated the Sabres in 5 games. In their last 14 meetings, Buffalo has won only one game, to go along with ten losses and two ties. These kind of statistics don't breed confidence. But Hasek feels the Sabres have a good shot of beating the Flyers, not just one game but winning the entire series.

"We played well, and if we play like that in the playoffs we'll have a good chance to win," said Hasek. "It was sort of an exhibition game than what you will see in the playoffs. We played smart hockey, but they scored more goals."

The playoffs start on Wednesday in Philadelphia, and continue with a Saturday afternoon game for game two. Game 3 and 4 will be in Buffalo next Monday and Tuesday. If the Sabres can't solve Cechmanek, the series could end late Tuesday night.

Sabres Talk

Cechmanek was happy with the win, but is definitely looking forward to the playoffs.

"It's good," Cechmanek said." I'm happy that we win today. It was very tough for us because we wanted to start at home. For me, maybe it's a surprise."

He was asked after the game if he now considers himself as the top Czech goalie, especially with the upcoming Olympic games next year.

Maybe," Cechmanek answered smiling. "It's not a done season. Now starts a new challenge."

Hasek gave his fellow countryman kudos.

"He's a good goalie, no doubt," lauded Hasek, who only had to make 15 saves. "He beat us four times. He probably played his best hockey against us. But if we play in the playoffs like we played today, I believe we can win."

Now comes the question of home ice advantage, or disadvantage. John LeClair kind of skated around the issue.

"I don't know if it gives us an edge," he said, "but it helps our team as far as confidence by winning in this building and playing against a team that's really hot lately."

Jay McKee had a lot to say about home ice advantage.

"I'm not saying this because we don't have home ice - I would have said this before the game - it really doesn't matter," McKee said. "I think it's going to be hard for one of these two teams to win three games in a row, and if they want to take advantage of their home ice they're going to have to win two more in a row. A couple years ago we went right to the Finals and had no problems. I enjoy starting on the road. If you can come out with a split, momentum swings."

Philly coach Bill Barber thought having the advantage was a take it or leave it thing.

"I don't know if there's any edge," said Barber. "You still have to win games on the road. That's the bottom line when you get into playoff hockey. For a team to be successful you have to find ways to win. Home-ice advantage - we have it. What does it mean? I don't know."

Ruff had his own opinions about starting on the road.

"I always thought it was better to start on the road," Ruff said half seriously. "There's a lot less pressure, and if you steal one you got a chance to come home and win a couple."

"We would like to have had home ice. We went out and went after it. We were good in every aspect of the game except we didn't take advantage of the real good scoring chances to get them down and out."

Ruff was perplexed about how to solve Cechmanek's spell on the Sabres shooters.

"It frustrates you," admitted Ruff. "But the one thing you know is you can skate with them. The one thing we have to do is get to that goaltender. We've got to show a lot more film on him, but if you get a couple bounces and take advantage of it, you can easily put him aside."

"We played extremely hard," Ruff continued. "We went at them at every turn. We tried to finish every check. Tonight we had second and third efforts to create opportunities. I think the message was sent: You can hack, you can slash, you can try to hold us, but we're going to come up with that second and third effort."

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