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Sabres Central

Three for the road
By Rick Anderson
December 5, 2001

The Sabres' Erik Rasmussen scores the Sabres first goal of the game as he lifts it over a sprawled Arturs Irbe. Rasmussen would score 2 in the Sabres 4-2 victory over Carolina.
[AP Photo/Bob Jordan]

This was just what the doctor ordered. The Buffalo Sabres went on a 3-game road trip and came back to Buffalo will all six points. After dropping like a lead balloon during the first two weeks of November, the Sabres suddenly are moving up in the standings. Completing their three-game road trip with an impressive 4-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, the Sabres come home to face the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche Friday night.

Up until the Sabres reversed their fortunes by defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs on November 21, the Sabres were dead meat if their opponents scored first. The Leafs game could be the turning point in the season for the Sabres. Like they had in their previous game against the Islanders, the Sabres fell behind the Canes early in the game, only to forge ahead with a intense effort.

J.P. Dumont and Erik Rasmussen both scored a pair of goals in leading the Sabres to their third straight win on the road.

Dumont, along with goalie Martin Biron, are two of the key elements in the Sabres turnaround the past two weeks. Dumont is on a tear, scoring his 6th goal in 7 games. Dumont also has 6 assists during that stretch.

"Everybody is on a roll," said an enthused Dumont, who now leads the team with 13 goals. "Every time I had a chance to score I just put it in the net."

Biron, meanwhile, has been solid in goal the last two weeks. His play has been as much a turnaround as the Sabres play in front of him. For over two weeks, his teammates weren't sure if Biron were going to make a big save or not. Now, they are gaining as much confidence in him as they had for Hall-of-Fame bound Dominik Hasek the past few years.

After the Sabres took a 2-1 lead after the first period, Biron had to come up huge in the second stanza when the Sabres took the period off. He made 10 saves in that period, only allowing one goal which Ron Francis scored. For the night, Biron made 25 saves and posted his 13th victory of the season. It was the 11th straight game where Biron has allowed 3 goals or less.

Tale of Two Periods

Miroslav Satan wacks Hurricanes' Glen Wesley's stick, breaking it in half during third period action.
[AP Photo/Bob Jordan]

This was an Oriole cookie game for the Sabres. They sandwiched two good periods around one contemptible one. The Canes actually scored first when Sami Kapanen took a Francis pass and one-timed it past Biron at the 4:37 mark. It was a powerplay goal, and only 4 seconds had ticked off Alexei Zhitnik's penalty when the Sabres defenseman came back on the ice.

Slava Kozlov, who was given a first star award for helping to set up two goals, had a impressive night. Kozlov, who sat last week's Rangers game for lack of production, has been playing much better lately. He rang the puck off the post and a little later got a nice pass from Zhitnik as he broke into the Canes zone. Kozlov made Carolina goalie Arturs Irbe go low in anticipation of a shot and he passed it over to Rasmussen, who slammed it into the empty side, tying the game. The J.P. took center stage. Sabres defenseman Jason Woolley took the puck in the neutral zone and sent it to a flying Stu Barnes. Barnes then drop-passed to Dumont, who skated over to the faceoff circle and blasted a shot over Irbe's glove side.

Then came the white portion of the Oriole cookie. The Canes had their home white jerseys and it was appropriate that they dominated in the middle stanza. Peppering Biron with shot after shot, the Sabres No. 1 man in the nets came through time and again.

Erik Cole flew in and got past Zhitnik. Biron came out to try to poke the puck off Cole's stick, but it went onto Francis' stick and the veteran directed it into the open side to tie the game.

Then came the Sabres period. With Buffalo on a powerplay, Miroslav Satan passed over to Dumont, who was able to tip it past Irbe to score the winner.

The Sabres scored the cushion goal when Kozlov got it over to Tim Connolly, who fed Rasmussen cruising in. Rasmussen notched his second of the game to end the scoring.

Sabres on the upswing

The Sabres are on a high right now. After competing with the Bills for being the worst team in town, the Sabres are now at the break-even point. Now their sights are aimed at the top.

"We're playing some of our best hockey in the last couple years all around, from an offensive side to not giving up a lot (defensively) either," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff.

Ruff has taken his share of flak for not getting his team motivated for the weaker teams in the league. Losses to Atlanta, Florida, Columbus and Nashville had fans and the media talking about how the Sabres were digging a hole they would have a tough time climbing out of. Now, in the first week of December, the Sabres find themselves even keel once again. The Hurricanes, even though they lead in their division, are not what you'd call a powerhouse. It was their fourth straight defeat and they are 2-6-2-1 in their last 11 games (shades of the Sabres a couple weeks ago). This was a good test for the Sabres to see if they could get up and beat a struggling team.

Carolina coach Paul Maurice is trying to find a way out of the doldrums and he may just have to ask Ruff how he got his team out of its funk.

"We're not working hard enough to get any breaks," Maurice said. "We've slipped into dragging our butts all over the ice."

The Sabres should not need any motivation to get up for Friday's game against the defending Stanley Cup champion Avalanche.

Sabres Talk

Ruff tried to explain the Sabres lack of enthusiasm in the second period.

"I thought we jumped on them in the first period and then we absolutely got smoked in the second period," Ruff said. "Part of that was we lost almost every faceoff we took, and that hurt us. We started winning the 1-on-1 battles again in the third."

Miroslav Satan wacks Hurricanes' Glen Wesley's stick, breaking it in half during third period action.
[AP Photo/Bob Jordan]

Then Ruff displayed exuberance for his team's performance.

"This has been some of the best hockey we've played in the past couple of years," beamed Ruff.

"There's a belief we can come back, we can score three or four," Ruff continued. "We've got some players that are making some plays right now. We've scored some nice goals, we've got some bounces. Early in the year, we couldn't buy a goal, and now you can ricochet a couple across. We're finding a way."

Rasmussen, who was the last Sabre to sign a contract this year, is finally getting the cobwebs out of his game.

"Now that I'm getting the chance to play with Timmy (Connolly) and Kozzie, I don't have to do a lot," explained Rasmussen. "They hang on to the puck long enough, I just have to get open." It has been a common sight in recent weeks for Rasmussen to smack his stick on the ice in frustration after failing to convert a scoring chance."

"I'm not expected to score 80 points," admitted Rasmussen, "but the last three weeks I wasn't producing on a regular basis. I wasn't doing the little things that make me a good player."

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