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Sabres Central

Biron stands on his head to thwart Caps
By Rick Anderson
March 18, 2001

Martin Biron loves to play in the MCI Center in Washington. He thrived under an all-out attack there on Saturday night as he held the Washington Capitals at bay and helped the Buffalo Sabres defeat their nemesis Capitals 3-2 before a sellout crowd of 18,672.

Donald Audette playing in his first game since being acquired in a trade from Atlanta, attempts to slip the puck past Capitals goalie Olaf Kolzig while Washington defenseman Brendan Witt attempts to stop Audette. The Sabres beat the Caps 3-2.
[AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais]

In his last two starts, Biron has shut down not only the Southeast's leading Capitals, but he also barred the door to the NHL leading Colorado Avalanche on March 3, his last start.

While newly acquired Steve Heinze has been the rage with the Sabres the past two games, this one in the Nation's Capital belonged completely to Biron. The feisty young netminder made 42 saves and clearly proved that he is ready for prime time. The only thing in his way is this immovable object - Dominik Hasek. If it weren't for Hasek and his $7.5 million contract, Biron would be the Sabres No. 1 man in the nets. As it is, he will have to take a back seat to the Dominator for most of the remaining regular season games and the forthcoming playoffs.

"To be honest, I might get one more start to the end of the season," admitted Biron. "Dom is going to be there, and I'm just going to be there to support him."

Home away from home

Biron has yet to play a game in Buffalo this season. It seems as if Sabres coach Lindy Ruff and the Sabres management want the highly-paid Hasek to play all the games in Buffalo's HSBC Arena, so that the fans get their money's worth and see the only true superstar on the Sabres in action. That is fine with Biron, who seems to have found his home away from home - the MCI Center.

This was Biron's second start of the season against the Capitals in their home rink, and his second victory.

"There are some rinks, where you feel comfortable,"revealed Biron. "We've been here quite often. Last year, I played a game here, and this season two games, so I've kind of got a good feeling about this place."

The Capitals which they had seen the Dominator instead of the upstart kid with the appearance of a high school junior. They peppered him all night with shots that could have handcuffed the best of goalies, but not Biron. In the first two periods alone, the Caps threw 30 shots his way and only two, both by Washington's leading scorer Peter Bondra, got through the unflappable goalie.

In the final half of the third period, the Caps really put the heat on the young goalie. They swarmed around him like a bunch of angry bees, blistering shot after shot on him without penetrating his zone. The last minute of the game was even more intense, as the Caps not only pulled their goalie, Olaf Kolzig, but also were awarded a powerplay, thus giving the Capitals a 2 man advantage. Biron withstood the storm.

As the final horn signaled the game's end, player who greeted Biron with the biggest smile was none other than Hasek himself. Even the Dominator can appreciate the kind of performance that Biron put forth and he is happy to have such a superlative backup just in case of emergency or relief.

That is probably the difference between the Hasek/Biron situation and the former Doug Flutie/Rob Johnson debacle. Hasek is willing to work with Biron and make him the best possible replacement. Flutie did the opposite with Johnson in the Bills quarterback debate for the past three years. That's why Flutie is now an ex-Bill. Hasek, on the other hand, realizes that Biron is the Sabres future in goal. The only problem lies in the fact that it is Hasek himself that may be hindering the development of a would-be great goaltender. The Dominator has yet to determine if he will retire after this season. If he does indeed decide to play one more year, what does that do for Biron's career. The young goalie has been patient for the past 3 years while waiting for the Sabres future Hall of Fame goalie to pass the torch. Will Biron be happy doing spot duty one more year when he could be starting for at least half the other teams in the league?

Sabres capitalize on every opportunity

At the other end of the ice, Kolzig had to make only 21 saves. But he was spectacular at times in preventing the Sabres from capitalizing on other Washington breakdowns. The Sabres drew first blood when Stu Barnes connected with his 18th goal of the season at the 23 second mark of the second stanza. Barnes attempted a centering pass in front of Kolzig which glanced off defenseman Brendan Witt's skate and into the net. Bondra answered that when the Caps were on a powerplay and peppering Biron from every direction. Finally Bondra was able to zing a rebound over Biron to tie the game 13:20 into 2nd period.

With that goal, Bondra broke the Capitals record with his 21st powerplay tally. It also broke a Caps scoreless streak that had gone over 2 games, 134 minutes, 48 seconds. Before that, the Capitals had gone 0-for-16 with the man advantage.

Bondra's goal ignited a sudden explosion of 3 goals in less than 3 minutes. The Sabres got that goal right back when Curtis Brown notched his ninth of the season at the 15:24 mark. Heinze, who was held scoreless for the first time since coming over to Buffalo in a trade with Columbus, assisted on Brown's goal. Just 30 seconds later, it was Bondra again beating Biron with a wicked slap shot from the slot area tying it up once again.

"He had a rocket today, and that was the one you had to check," commented Biron about Bondra and his wicked shot.

Around the halfway mark of the third period, the Sabres put the pressure on Kolzig. They blasted him with several shots and Chris Gratton was able to get to Kolzig's right and slam home a rebound that turned into the game winner.

This was a satisfying win for the Sabres. In the past few years, the Capitals have definitely had the Sabres number and Kolzig has given the Buffalo shooter fits. On this night, the Sabres reversed the tables when they revealed their main weapon for capital punishment, Martin Biron.

Sabres Talk

Washington coach Ron Wilson has been known to play head games with his Buffalo counterpart Lindy Ruff the past couple years. He did it in the Eastern Conference Finals in 1998 and last season he employed tactics against the Sabres that Ruff took issue with. But this season, Ruff has pulled a little magic out of his own bag of tricks, namely Biron playing instead of Hasek.

"You get over 40 shots on goal and with as many scoring opportunities as we got, you should come out with a better result than that," fumed Wilson.

The man who scored the game-winner gave had high marks for the young goalie.

"He's going to be an outstanding goalie for many years in this league, and he won this game for us tonight," complimented Gratton.

Biron was happy to be very busy in the nets, facing all the Caps shots.

"It makes you get in the game more," smiled Biron. "The guys were in the game. They were vocal, and they knew everything that was going on. You know they are in the game and that makes you feel better out there."

Ruff was not happy with all the shots that Biron had to face.

"We don't like the fact that we gave up that many shots, but we won the game and that's what counts," ruff said. "We gave up 15 shots on the power play. Part of that (the 44 shots-against total) was that we don't have a Smehlik, we don't have a McKee. We had two rookies (Dmitri Kalinin, Brian Campbell) playing on defense."


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