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Sabres Central

Sabres hold on to defuse Lightning
By Rick Anderson
February 25, 2001

Dave Andreychuk opens the scoring in the first period as he gets the puck past Lightning goalie Kevin Weekes. Kristian Kudroc (57) was not able to prevent Andreychuk from getting in on Weekes. Andreychuk scored two goals to increase his total to 16 this season.
[AP Photo]

The Buffalo Sabres finally beat a team that was in the league's lower class. After losing to teams like Columbus, Montreal, Florida, Tampa Bay, and Atlanta, the Sabres barely held on and beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-4 in a matinee contest.

"Overall, I thought we played a very good game," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "We made a few mistakes late in the game and it almost cost us."

The victory could be a costly one for the Sabres though, as they lost both defenseman Jason Woolley and Vaclav Varada late in the third period.

The Sabres coming off a 7-3 thrashing the other night against Phoenix, started out of the gates in a flurry as Dave Andreychuk got the Sabres on the board just 2:48 after the opening faceoff. Going down the Lightning zone on a 2-on-1, Andreychuk got a nice feed from Chris Gratton, ending a shutout streak by Kevin Weekes' that had gone 95 minutes, 39 seconds.

Then came one of the biggest surprises of the game when Doug Gilmour finally netted his fourth goal of the season. It had been a long time coming for the veteran who is probably playing in his last NHL season. Gilmour's goal came on a powerplay and he was left standing all alone on Weekes. Gilmour probably hasn't had an easier goal in years.

The Sabres were hoping to get off the ice for the first intermission with a 2-0 lead, but the Lightning had different ideas. Ryan Johnson scored an unassisted goal on Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek with just 6 ticks left on the clock and the Sabres knew that they would have a tough one on their hands.

The Sabres looked like they were ready to romp when they took a 4-1 lead with goals by Miroslav Satan and Vladimir Tsyplakov. But in the third Tampa Bay came back with goals by Jassen Cullimore, Nils Ekman and Todd Warriner, sandwiched by the second Andreychuk goal of the game. The Sabres looked as if they had the game wrapped up, leading 5-2 and with a powerplay. But instead, it was Tampa which scored two shorthanded goals in 25 seconds, with the goals by Ekman and Warriner.

"We played one of the best first periods we have in a long time," said Ruff. "Then we made a mistake late in the period to put them back into the game. You look at the game as a whole. You're standing there just loving the way your team plays for the first 19:54 until you give the puck away in the neutral zone."

Hasek was playing in his 500th NHL game and looked shaky in the third period as he allowed three goals, while making 22 saves in the game.

"I knew it was a big game for us," commented Hasek. "We needed these two points, and at the end of the day we made it. But we made so many careless plays. Against better teams you don't win the game if you do that."

The condition of Woolley seems better as of Monday. He injured his right knee and didn't practice Monday, but his injury is not as severe as Varada's. Woolley had to be helped off the ice after injuring a leg and Varada was caught skating with his head down and got his bell rung by former Sabre Grant Ledyard. Varada had a severe concussion and his status remains as clouded as his mind is after that ferocious hit.

The Sabres now head on a gruesome 5-game road trip that starts in Ottawa on Tuesday and ends a week later in Boston. In between, the Sabres will have to play Philadelphia, Colorado and Dallas. It will be the road trip from Hell if Sabres coach Lindy Ruff doesn't get his defense back on track. They have looked below average at best in allowing 11 goals in the last two games. This is not the time for the Buffalo D to falter.

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Ruff accentuated the positive but then turned his attention to the miscues which allowed two shorthanded goals at the end.

"The power play made some nice plays, could have scored probably a couple more goals but moved the puck well and got some shots from the point, which we haven't been getting," Ruff said.

With the positives out of the way, Ruff concentrated on the collapse on the powerplay that almost cost them the game.

"We made two mistakes pressing to get to six. We should have been a little more cautious. When you see a hit like (on Varada) that you want to take advantage of the penalty. You want to make them pay for it. You're fired up on the bench, so we went after it and made a mistake."

Hasek could not believe the turnovers that cost the Sabres two straight goals.

"It should not happen," fumed Hasek. "I do not understand. There's no excuse. Maybe you do this against Tampa we still can win the game. But if we play against a better team, we don't win."

Sabres defenseman Alexei Zhitnik felt like hiding in the corner of the dressing room after that third period performance.

"It was embarrassing," said Zhitnik. "The last five or six minutes was embarrassing for everybody."

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