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Sabres Central

Sabres collapse in third ignites Rangers
By Rick Anderson
December 9, 2000

The Sabres must have celebrated a little too much over their victory against the champion Devils. After playing a stellar game against New Jersey, the Sabres fell flat on their faces in losing to the New York Rangers 5-2 Friday night.

After taking a 2-1 lead over the Rangers in the second period, Buffalo allowed 4 straight New York goals, 3 of them in the final period. It was not pretty.

The Sabres, who have been known for their Jekyll and Hyde performances in past years, have been much more consistent this year.....until Friday night in Madison Square Garden. It was one of the biggest 180 degree swings in recent Sabres memory. In fact, Buffalo found itself on the opposite end of 5-2 scores in two nights.

The Dominated

Dominik Hasek himself did a 180 degree swing in his back-to-back games. Hasek was remarkable in goal against the Devils. Against the Rangers it was a much different story. He made 22 saves against the Rangers, and was doing a credible job until 3/4 through the second period when the roof fell in on the Sabres Hall of Fame-bound goalie.
Theoren Fleury scores the first of his two goals against Dominik Hasek in the second period. Hasek watches the puck as it's about to slide over the goal line. This goal marked the start of a 4-goal outburst against the Dominator.
[AP Photo/Jeff Zelevansky]

The Rangers ripped at the Hasek mystique which has plagued them since he came into the NHL. The victory was only the second for the Rangers against Hasek since Dec. 13, 1996. Since then, the Dominator has been like a demigod to the New York team, posting a 8-2-4 record.

It must have seemed like the tearing down of the Berlin Wall to the Rangers, only this time is was the Czech barricade. The Rangers are taking the full credit for piercing Hasek's bulwark. However, from the Sabres side it looks as if Hasek was worn out.

It was a scene similar to the Bills-Dolphins football game 5 days earlier when Bills coach Wade Phillips waited to long until he relieved starting quarterback Rob Johnson. In this case, Hasek should have come out after allowing the third goal. The Dominator just wasn't the Dominator of old - he just looked old.

As the clock ticked down to the bitter end, the delirious MSG crowd was in a New Year's Eve mood as they chanted "Hah-shek! Hah-shek!"

Before this game, Hasek seemed to own the Rangers in every way except having possession of the title. He had five career shutouts over the Rangers. He also was undefeated in 12 of the last 13 games against the Rangers. It all came to a screeching halt Friday night in New York.

"We just didn't play a full 60 minutes," cited Hasek. "They are a talented offensive team and if you give them too many chances they will score."

Fleury of action

Ever since Theoren Fleury was acquired by the Rangers a couple years ago, he didn't quite pan out to their great expectations. This year, however, has been a much different story for Fleury. His two goals against Hasek has put him at 19 so far this season, putting him on a course of at least 50 goals. Quite a turnaround for a $6 million dollar "bust" that resulted in only 15 goals all last season.

"That wasn't me last year," Fleury admitted. "It was somebody else. It was some guy I didn't know. The difference is I've got my confidence back. I'm having fun again and that's the biggest thing.

Fleury had plenty of fun Friday night at the Sabres' expense.

With the score 2-1 Buffalo, the great Mark Messier and Brian Leetch tore into the Sabres zone. Messier made a nice pass to Leetch, who then spotted Fleury flying like the wind down left wing. Fleury beat Hasek for his 18th of the year with a shot from the bottom of the left circle and Sabres implosion had begun.

"I was yelling as loud as I could and Leetch has been making those plays for years," said Fleury about trying to gain Leetch's attention. "Leetch made a great play and I just tried to put it on net."

"It was a nice feeling to hear him yell because I was in no-man's land," commented Leetch, who now has gone past the great Jean Ratelle with his 818th point into second place as the Rangers' all-time scorer. Only Rod Gilbert's has more with 1,021 points.

After Mike York beat Hasek only 2:33 into 3rd period with what turned out to be the game winner, Fleury pounded the finishing nails into the Sabres coffin a little over a minute later.

With J.P. Dumont off for roughing, the Rangers league-leading power play did its damage and ended any hopes the Sabres had of staging a comeback. Fleury picked off a Stu Barnes attempt to clear the puck and rifled the puck past a beleaguered Hasek.

"I have so much confidence now, I looked up, made sure the puck was settled and shot it," Fleury said.

The Sabres, who had their game with the Devils delayed one day because of a "major snowstorm" in Buffalo Wednesday, left Buffalo after Thursday's big victory with only a few flurries to contend with. Friday night in the Big Apple, they had to suffer through a swirling Fleury that turned into an avalanche.

"Everyone finishing their checks went a long way," related Fleury. "We talked about taking advantage of the fact that they had played (the night before). "

Then Fleury gave the Sabres one last dig.

"Maybe they were tired from shoveling their driveways," he said.

Gilmour-Grosek trade

Remember Michal Grosek? He's the player the Sabres sent off to Chicago for Doug Gilmour and J.P. Dumont. With Gilmour's career is question now, the only thing the Sabres got out of that trade was the "throw-in" Dumont. What a throw-in he has been! Dumont scored the Sabres only two goals against the Rangers, but they came after Grosek wanted to make a statement to Lindy Ruff and Co.
Vaclav Varada attempts to cut in on Rangers goalie Mike Richter, but his shot is blocked as New York defenseman Dale Purinton attempts to thwart Varada's stride.
[AP Photo/Jeff Zelevansky]

Rangers' coach Ron Low moved Grosek up to the right side on the Mark Messier-Adam Graves line and Grosek paid his thanks by scoring the game's first goal. Grosek cut in front of Hasek, making him sprawl and flipped the puck into the empty right side. It was one of the sweetest goals he ever scored, as far as Grosek was concerned.

"It felt good," said Grosek about sticking it to his former teammates, especially his fellow countryman Hasek. "It felt great. I just hope I can keep it going and hold my spot."

After that Grosek goal, Dumont was determined to make his statement. Being the "other" in that Gilmour/Grosek trade, he has been providing the Sabres huge dividends all season. Miroslav Satan got a shot off on Ranger's goalie Mike Richter and Dumont picked up the rebound right in front to hammer it home. His goal came just 51 seconds after Grosek's tally.

Dumont put the Sabres ahead for the only time in the second period, when Stu Barnes, Jay McKee and Dumont made some fancy passes to set up the goal. Dumont got a shot off on Richter and slammed home the rebound to give the Sabres a 2-1 lead. From there, it was all downhill for Buffalo.

Snowed under

While the Sabres gave the Rangers neighbors to the east a snow job on Thursday, the Rangers complimented them with the same gesture the next night in MSG.

The Rangers really made Hasek and his teammates look foolish on their fifth and final goal. Jason Woolley couldn't keep the puck in the Rangers zone as the puck hopped over his stick. Radek Dvorak and Jan Hlavac went on a two-man breakaway on the helpless Hasek. In previous years, Hasek may have been able to pull the rabbit out of his helmet and made a spectacular save. Not this night! As Hlavac passed over to Dvorak, Hasek slid to block a shot, but that opened up the entire side of the net and Dvorak passed back to Hlavac who had a wide open net to shoot at. The goal was a total embarrassment to the Sabres and Hasek.

"You line up for a faceoff, get a bad bounce and give them a two-on-none," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "I don't think we gave them more than five even strength chances the whole night and four of them went in."

Sabres Talk

Grosek's goal was only his of the year and he had only 10 goals while with the Sabres last season. Dumont already has that many and the season isn't even half over yet. He now not only leads the team in goals, but in points with 20.

"I was happy with the two goals because it tied the game," remarked Dumont. "We were still in it. It doesn't matter now because we lost. I could have scored three or four goals and it wouldn't have mattered."

Dumont was the target of plenty of physical abuse throughout the game. One time, he was accidently punched in the nose by a Rangers player and was down on the ice bleeding from the nose. He got up and played the next shift.

"It was a physical game, a very tough game," said Dumont. "We were playing a good road game until the third period."

Hasek, meanwhile, wasn't throwing too many compliments the Rangers' way.

"I didn't think they played that well," muttered Hasek. "They just beat us. All of a sudden they scored the third and then the fourth. I don't know what to say."

The Rangers dressing room was overflowing with emotion after what they deemed a big win.

"Huge," commented Low about the Rangers victory. "A heck of a hockey game."

Low is also elated over the play of sophomore Mike York

"Yorkie is having a glorious season," Low said. "If you don't notice him, you have to be foolish as a hockey person."

Even Messier is singing praises for York, who scored 26 goals as a rookie last season.

"You can't overlook him if you're following the team," Messier about York. "He's unbelievable offensively, and defensively. He could easily win the Selke Trophy. It's a pretty nice package."

Fleury, who is now the NHL's top goal-getter, was exuberant after the game.

"I think this is what we've been building all year, to be really consistent," Fleury said. "I think the biggest thing about the last two games is we've worn down the teams we've played and then, at the end, we were able to do our thing offensively. I think we know we can be in every game with the offensive guys we have and the power play."

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