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Sabres Central

Sabres survive Panther attack
By Rick Anderson
December 17, 2000

Dominik Hasek was back to his old self against the Florida Panthers. Here he performs the splits as he makes a save on Rob Niedermayer while defenseman Alexei Zhitnik attempts to clear the puck.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

If this keeps up, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff hair is going to turn snow white. The Sabres keep blowing leads and Saturday night in HSBC Arena in Buffalo, they almost did it again. Leading 3-1 against the Florida Panthers, the Sabres had to hang on to dear life after Florida scored with only 2:10 remaining in the game. The Panthers pulled their goalie and all hell broke loose. Over a minute and a half of such intense pressure that Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek must have thought that he was facing 10 shooters with just two defensemen. The Panthers passed the puck around in a frenzy and got shot after shot off with Hasek dropping to his familiar sprawling position and blocking every shot that got through the defense. In the end, Hasek was laying on the ice in complete exhaustion and the Sabres had held on for a 3-2 victory.

Ruff has to find a way to get his team to keep from collapsing once they have a lead. Against the Rangers and the Hurricanes, the Sabres had 2-1 leads midway through the game and then allowed the games to get out of hand, getting blown out by 5-2 and 5-3 scores. Against the Panthers, it was almost like deja vu all over again. This time, however, it happened late in the game and Florida didn't have enough time to tie it up.

Fluky goals

Ruff has been emphasizing just shooting the puck on the net and good things may happen. The Sabres may have learned that lesson last night as the Sabres put only 8 shots on goal in the first two periods and had 3 goals as a result.

The night before against the Carolina Hurricanes, Hasek was the victim of a couple fluky goals. Saturday night the tables turned and the Sabres capitalized on a couple of weird bounces. The Sabres only managed 3 shots on goal in the entire first period, but scored on one of them, a bizarre shot taken by Denis Hamel from along the left boards, behind the left faceoff circle.

Sabres defenseman James Patrick lays the lumber on Rob Niedermayer, while Alexei Zhitnik sprawls on the ice after making the initial check on the Panthers' center.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

Erik Rasmussen dropped a pass to Hamel and he took a long shot from just above the faceoff-circle hash marks. The puck skimmed off Hedican's stick and seemed to nick Trevor Kidd's stick and into the short side of the net. The goal came at 18:29 of the first period and was Buffalo's third shot on goal.

"I picked it up late," Kidd said. "I think I overplayed it."

The Sabres got what amounted to as their most legitimate goal 13:37 into 2nd period. With the Sabres on the power play, Kalinin put a shot on goal that was blocked by Kidd. However, Stu Barnes picked up the rebound and was able to steer it over to J.P. Dumont who snuck in to the left of Kidd. Dumont waited and finally was able to flip a backhand over the sprawled Kidd. It was only the second shot on goal by the Sabres in the period, the first being Kalinin's shot that initiated the play. It was Dumont's 14th goal of the season and got him back on track after being shutout Friday against the ‘Canes. He now has 6 goals and 3 assists in his last 5 games. Not bad for a semi-rookie.

"The second one was on a 3-on-2 with a rebound," said Kidd. "We couldn't get our hands on the puck to clear it."

The Panthers were finally able to solve Hasek as Greg Adams stole the puck from Alexei Zhitnik and fed Mike Sillinger right in front of Hasek. The puck went through Hasek's pads and the shutout bid was broken only 33 seconds after Dumont's goal.

Then the fluky stuff happened again. Rasmussen skated between the faceoff circles and took a shot from 30 feet away from Kidd. The Panthers' goalie was screened by Vaclav Varada and the puck flew over Kidd's left shoulder for Rasmussen's 5th goal of the season. It also turned out to be the game winner.

"Just go to the net, baby!"

One other thing that Ruff has been emphasizing is to go to the net. It causes havoc, screens the goalie and allows players to pick up a possible rebound. Varada had a hand in the first and third Buffalo goals as a result of flying to the net. On Hamel's goal, Varada put his stick up high in an attempt to redirect the shot. The puck didn't come close, but his stick may have interfered with Kidd's vision.

On Rasmussen's goal, Varada should have gotten an assist just by screening Kidd. Varada has to work for his goals and it's not too often that he gets them. Instead, his aggressive style helps set goals up, such as in Rasmussen's tally.

"I was shooting for "V's (Varada's) stick," said Rasmussen. ""V' was standing in front of the net and I was shooting actually right for his stick and it hit one of their guy's sticks and it bounced in."

Varada explained his part in causing the visual blockade in front of Kidd.

"It was going low and the defense tipped it up high," said Varada. "I felt the air coming right by my nose."

"We talked about this before the game," explained Rasmussen about causing havoc in front of Kidd. "We knew Trevor Kidd's a big goalie and he covers a lot of the net. In order to get anything on him you had to get traffic on him and you had to get the puck high."

Varada listened well to Ruff's message and then delivered.

"We had some good cycles going," Varada recalled. "Their goalie's on the ice all the time with the paddle down so we had to get the puck up and that's what they did and I was just fortunate to get in his way and help us to score."

Frantic effort comes up short

The Sabres finally were able to get more shots on goal in the final stanza as they registered 14 on Kidd. But the Panthers got an equal amount on Hasek and really put the pressure on him in the last 2 ½ minutes of the game. With the Panthers trying to get within one goal, Hasek looked like the Dominator of old as he made 3 outstanding saves. Scott Mellanby dug out the puck and sent it out to Igor Larionov who finally put it past Hasek with only 2:10 remaining in the game.

Dominik Hasek does a "snow angel" in order to stop the puck. Panthers center Mike Sillinger shot was stopped by Hasek's skate. Sabres' Vaclav Varada, Richard Smehlik (42), and Alexei Zhitnik (44) try to help out their goalie..
[REUTERS Photo/Nick Jones ]

Right after Larionov's goal, Ruff must have been reaching for his ulcer medication. He knew what was coming. The Panther's pulled Kidd and they put on a frenzied effort to tie the game that had the fans on the edge of the seats and Ruff in a panic mode.

With the Sabres trying to from a box around Hasek to prevent any shot from coming through, the Panthers put on a barrage of firepower. With Hasek sprawled like a snow angel, the shots came from every direction. The defense got in front of a couple shots and Hasek was able to make three superlative saves while flopping around as the clock ticked down. Finally, and mercifully, the horn sounded to end the game. Hasek had done his job and gained some sense of redemption for his horrible game the night before. But he was quick to credit the teammates in front of him.

"My teammates, they saved me," a thankful Hasek said. "I couldn't see anything. I think Curtis Brown he made like three or four saves and I had no idea a couple of times where was the puck."

Ruff had to review the last two minutes on video after the game to believe what he saw.

"I just looked at the replay and on the one shot, there were at least nine bodies in front of Dom," Ruff said. "The chance that he was going to see it. . . . I don't even know if the guy shooting could see Dom. It was chaos at best, but the good thing about that last 30 seconds was we had all 5 bodies in front of the net. The puck was always on the other side of us."

Sabres Talk

Both coaches were not totally impressed by the effort of their respective teams. Playing the second half of back-to-back games may have had something to do with it.

"Both teams didn't have a lot of things going for them tonight," emphasized Ruff. "It was a rough night. We had some guys who were MIA."

"I felt we should have won the game tonight," said Panthers coach Terry Murray. "We came out in the first and second and had our opportunities. Three, four times, we had loose pucks come to us and we just didn't get it done."

"We had a tough time getting shots through in the first period and our passing wasn't very good," Ruff articulated. " That's a product of some guys who didn't have any legs. Shifts got pretty short."

Kidd seemed to enjoy the game, even though his team lost.

"It wasn't a highly entertaining game for the first two periods,"said Kidd. "You could tell both teams had played the night before."

The Panthers may have learned a valuable lesson from the Sabres about shooting as much as possible.

"We're still passing up shooting opportunities,'' said Panthers defenseman Bret Hedican. "It's something we're building on and it's something I think we can keep improving on as well."

About Hasek (who made 28 saves) and his ability to shut down the Panthers offense, Hadican said, "Good players don't typically have bad nights two nights in a row. We really didn't cover that. We just said (in the pregame meeting) he had come off a tough night, so let's get the puck through, challenge him a bit and see how he reacts."

Doug Gilmour finally was able to get back into the lineup after suffering from a strained pelvic muscle. Ruff and the Sabres were very concerned about the health of Gilmour and it was even feared that he may have played his last game as a Sabre.

"It felt pretty good," a relieved Gilmour revealed. "I was just trying to keep my shifts short at the start and trying to last out there. I think throughout the next week, going through the games and practicing, that'll tell what's going on."

Gilmour did not take a laid-back approach to his playing style. He came out and hit and took a couple of slashing penalties in the process.

"He was out there in the corners throwing elbows," exclaimed Rasmussen.

"That's the only way you're going to do it," Gilmour chipped in. "Obviously it's in your mind and you try to let it out of your mind. You just want to go out and you want to play. I wasn't really thinking about it but obviously in the back of your mind, it's there. So if it's (the back) going to (sustain the hits) , we might as well (put it to the test) right now."


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