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Sabres Central

Hamel's late goal exterminates Panthers
By Rick Anderson
January 20, 2001

Denis Hamel will probably never forget his 7th goal of the 2000-2001 NHL campaign. In an magnificent finish, the Buffalo Sabres put aside 19 minutes and 30 seconds of boring, scoreless hockey and finished the game with a bang. The bang was a huge explosion of jubilations as the Hamel came down the right side on a 2-on-1 rush and slammed home a bullet that got past Panther goalie Roberto Luongo to win the game with just 7.9 seconds left in regulation. The 1-0 victory over the Florida Panthers vaulted the Sabres into second place in the Northeast, one point in front of the Toronto Maple Leafs who they play Saturday night.

10, 9, 8 .... Hamel shoots....HE SCORES!

The two main figures in the dramatic Sabres 1-0 victory over the Panthers, Sabres left winger Denis Hamel and Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo, had an early showdown in the first period. Here Hamel tries to bring the puck out in front of Luongo, as the goalie stands guard.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

Talk about your fantastic finishes! This one goes up there with some of the best. Zero-zero game and going into overtime. A goaltender's classic. Then suddenly, in a flash, it's all over. A sudden power surge and a lightning bolt of a shot passes the goalie who stood on his head all night to keep the Sabres off the boards.

Hamel hasn't been scoring much of late. He had been playing on the fourth line and just paying his dues waiting for some break came his way. He was put on a line with Curtis Brown and Doug Gilmour and that gave Hamel more opportunities than he had on the fourth line. The break Hamel has been waiting for came Friday night in HSBC Arena and he made the most of it, scoring his 7th of the season.

With about 30 seconds left in regulation, the Panthers were the ones putting on the pressure. The puck came back to Bret Hedican and he geared up to take a long shot from the left point. Hamel did his best to stand in between Hedican and the Sabres net. Hedican took his shot and Hamel blocked it, sending it into the neutral zone. Hamel grabbed this glorious opportunity by the throat and ran (er...skated) with it.

Going down the right side on a two-on-one with Doug Gilmour, Hamel reached the top of the right circle and teed up his shot. The missile he sent sailed over the left shoulder of Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo and into the top part of the net sending the sellout crowd of 18,690 home in a boisterous mood.

"It's a great feeling," Hamel elated. "I knew we had a 2-on-1, but I didn't want to wait for the guy who came with me because I saw the backchecker right behind him."

"It looked like we'd have another chance at the net and, boom, five seconds later it's in our net," bemoaned Panthers' forward Rob Niedermayer.

Fifty Sabre shutouts

Dominik Hasek posted his 50th shutout with the Sabres in helping Buffalo move into second place in the Northeast. He did not have as much work as Luongo, but still had to face 21 shots. Hasek played just well enough to keep the Panthers off the board and give the Sabres the opportunity to gain the two points they so desperately needed.

Dominik Hasek, who recorded his 50th Sabres shutout, goes down to block a shot by Panthers right winger Scott Mellanby during first period action.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

"This is the organization I've been with for almost my whole life in North America," proclaimed Hasek. "Fifty shutouts with one organization -- not too many goalies can say that."

This was Hasek's sixth shutout of the season and was his 51st during an 11-year career. The only other team that Hasek played for in the NHL were the Chicago Black Hawks, where he played 25 games over two seasons. He was the second string goalie with the Hawks, playing second fiddle to Ed Belfour.

Hasek, who was struggling for a large part of the season before his current hot streak, proved that he has regained his fast lateral movement near the end of the game when the Panthers had their greatest opportunity to win the game. Peter Worell, the Panthers' huge tough man who was playing on the same line as Pavel Bure, threw a perfect pass over to Bure and the Russian Rocket zeroed in on Hasek. As Bure made his move, so did Hasek, sliding over to cut down the opening and making the save.

Now Hasek is playing in what could be his farewell season and finally starting to perform the way the Sabres are expecting.

Hamel punctures Luongo's bubble

At the other end of the rink, Luongo played a extraordinary game. He faced 36 shots and up until Hamel's shot got past him in the very last instant, played a perfect game. In fact, he was the dominant player on the ice, thwarting the Sabres at every opportunity.

"I can't really think right now," said Luongo. "We were there the whole game."

Luongo shutdown the Sabres Russian Rocket Maxim Afinogenov when Mad Max blasted a shot from the right circle four minutes into the second period. For one of the few times in the game, Luongo allowed a huge rebound that Dave Andreychuk grabbed out in front. Andreychuk tried to put the puck home, but Luongo made a great glove save to preserve his shutout at that time. There were many other opportunities that had the Buffalo forwards shaking their heads after Luongo foiled them time after time. A 0-0 tie looked like a real possibility until Hamel finally cracked the goose egg.

"Luongo played a great game tonight," said Hamel about the goalie he undermined. "I know him (from) a long time ago, I played against him. Tonight he proved that he could play here (in the NHL) and he did a great job for them."

"I think you've got to give Luongo a lot of credit," praised Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "He was like a vacuum. He didn't give up any rebounds. He held every puck. There was a whistle after every shot almost."

Sabres Talk

Hamel was the man everyone wanted to talk to after his goal saved an otherwise low profile game.

"Playing with Doug Gilmour and Curtis Brown has given a little confidence to me," Hamel said. "The defense tried to make a shot on net, I just tried to block it. I got lucky, it bounced off my pad and went in front of me for a 2-on1. I just tried to make a shot on net and I saw an opening on the glove side and I got lucky to put the puck right there. I don't think the goalie expected a shot (on that side). A lefty expects (it) on the blocker side down low, but I saw a big spot open in the corner and I tried to make the shot there."

"J.P. Dumont played with him for three years and told me go five hole or glove side high. He left a big spot open on the glove side and I make the shot right there."

"I saw the replay of my goal on the screen," Hamel continued. "I think I started with my stick back from the blue line. And I take the shot at the top of the circle. I always did that when I was young."

Ruff was upbeat and lively in his post game press conference.

"I didn't realize there was that little time left," admitted Ruff. "I thought there was about 30 seconds (remaining) until it went in and then realized that it was under 10 already. We had a little bit of scramble going on in our end a couple shifts. Then Denny gives us a great block and it was one heck of a shot. He's a guy that's capable and willing to give up his body to block a shot. Not everybody has that."

Backup goalie Martin Biron has faced Hamel's hard shot many times in practice.

"He's got a good slap shot," described Biron. "Actually, a very, very good slap shot. He used to only keep it high glove (side). That's his spot. When he was a junior, he used to shoot there all the time. Now he's working it all around. It's kind of different. But when you see him come in and he takes a big windup like he did right there, he went for his spot. He knew that he had that spot picked."

Talking about the Panthers' play, Ruff said, "They slowed the tempo of the game down. I think our fans got a little frustrated with that. They weren't going to allow us any momentum. They played a bad game in Chicago and their intent was to play the best defensive game. We didn't give up, I think in the first 40 minutes, three chances and we had 11 or 12 ourselves. Luongo made key saves on our first shifts of the hockey game and he was the difference in the game for us gaining a little momentum and getting up a few and helping them play a lot more aggressive game."

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