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Sabres Central

Sabres offense shoots blanks in Carolina
By Rick Anderson
March 22, 2001

Now they know what to expect come playoff time.

Hurricanes goalie Arturs Irbe was phenomenal in the nets for Carolina as he shutout the formerly explosive Sabres and helped his team win 1-0. Here he blocks a shot by Sabres' Steve Heinze (57) as Carolina defenseman helps block the crease area. Brian Campbell (51) is ready to pounce on any rebound, but none came.
[AP Photo/Bob Jordan]

After playing one of their best games of the season, the Buffalo Sabres came up flat against the Carolina Hurricanes and lost a squeaker, 1-0 in Raleigh, North Carolina. For the second game in a row, the Sabres faced the kind of portentous goaltending that they can expect in the playoffs in just a couple weeks. At this point, it looks as if the Sabres are not ready for prime time goalies.

On Tuesday night, the Sabres peppered Toronto goalie Curtis Joseph with 35 shots and had to pull out all stops in order to beat him for 3 goals. Wednesday night against the Hurricanes, they Sabres marksmen could not find the back of the net. They came across an even stronger goalie in Arturs Irbe. Irbe faced 9 few shots than Cujo had the night before, but he turned aside 11 shots in the final stanza when Buffalo really turned up the heat.

"In the third period we threw everything we had at them," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "Irbe stood tall. Irbe won them a hockey game."

Irbe faced 26 shots in total during the game and recorded his 6th shutout of the season. He leads the league with the most games played for a goalie with 67 games.

"I think I can take it, and I'll take as much as needed to make the playoffs and we'll go from there," said Irbe about playing in the majority of the Canes games. "This is the best thing in hockey, that's why we play. If you don't want to be the man you probably shouldn't be in the NHL. Every kid dreams of being the guy."

Sabres come up short

For the first time since the Sabres acquired Donald Audette and Steve Heinze at the trading deadline last week, the Sabres offense failed to provide any spark in this game. Irbe had a lot to do with it, but the Sabres failed to convert on their four power play attempts and just couldn't convert in the third period when they threw everything but the kitchen sink at Irbe. The Hurricanes have now not allowed a powerplay goal in the last 32 attempts by the opposition.

Chris Gratton had the best chances in the third period. While positioned in the slot area while the Sabres had a man advantage, Irbe kicked out a point-blank shot and then stopped an even better chance that Gratton had with a little over a minute left in the game.

"We had a chance to win at the end, but that was my fault," admitted Gratton. "I just couldn't bury it."

"The first chance I had, Dougie made a great pass and I thought I got pretty good wood on it," Gratton continued. "He made a heck of a toe save. The last one I was a little too tight. It's tough sledding when a goalie plays like that."

The Hurricanes got the only goal that they needed when David Tanabe got a shot through traffic that got past Hasek on his stick side. The goal came at the 16:32 of the second period and it was enough to stand up with the great goaltending of Irbe.

"I didn't see the puck," described Hasek. "There was lots of traffic in front of me and the puck went between my hand and my side."

For the second game in a row, Hasek had to make only 16 saves. He wishes he had made the 17th save.

The Sabres failed to pick up any ground on idle Philadelphia, who is ahead of Buffalo by 4 points in 4th place. If the season ended today, the Sabres would once again be playing the Flyers in the first round. The only way that Buffalo can avoid such a matchup is to sink to 6th in the Eastern Conference race or move up to 3rd in the race, which is practically impossible.

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Ruff has his work cut out for him if he wants to score any goals on Irbe come Saturday night in the rematch game in Buffalo.

"Offensively, we had a tough time getting the second opportunities," explained Ruff . "That might be a product of five games in eight nights, playing the night before, and they're fresh. Going into the game we thought they'd be looking to jump us quickly. We had some sloppy turnovers in the first period and Hasek made some great saves to keep us in the game."

Alexei Zhitnik, who had played goaltender for one play the night before against the Leafs and saved a goal, couldn't contribute t0 the offense in Raleigh.

"It was one of those games where there weren't any breaks for us offensively," said Zhitnik. "Sometimes you need a little luck."

The Hurricanes are moving up in the standings are now chasing the Leafs and maybe even the Sabres for their spots. With 3 games in hand, the Canes are only 5 points behind the Leafs.

"The big difference between being five games over .500 and chasing are the wins aren't as big and the losses aren't as big," said Carolina coach Paul Maurice. "We're happy we won the game. We'll move forward. Mentally, that takes less of a toll on your team."

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