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Sabres Central

Sabres finally break Irbe's bubble
By Rick Anderson
March 25, 2001

Arturs Irbe, who had shutout the Buffalo Sabres for over 5 periods, is ready to block any shot as Hurricanes defenseman David Tanabe (45) attempts to get the puck out as Sabres forward J.P. Dumont moves in to get the puck. The Sabres beat the Hurricanes 3-1.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

Arturs Irbe had foiled the Buffalo Sabres at every turn. Nothing the Sabres forwards threw at the Carolina goaltender ever made it past him. On Wednesday, he had completely barred the door in route to the Carolina Hurricanes 1-0 victory over the Sabres. He did it for two more periods Saturday night in Buffalo's HSBC Arena. Baffled, puzzled, perplexed and frustrated. That was the plight of the Buffalo shooters and more. They must have been wondering if they would ever score Irbe again.

Finally, after 101 minutes and 9 seconds of not being able to score against Irbe, the Sabres finally broke the ice. Donald Audette was able to break Stu Barnes free on Irbe as he fed him a perfect pass and Barnes broke in alone on Irbe. Barnes put a hard shot up high on Irbe from the right faceoff circle that made it over the goalie's left shoulder at the 1:09 mark of the final period.

"We just stuck with it and eventually we got one," said Barnes. "I don't think you can get too frustrated with it, it's just continued hard work."

Irbe frustrates Sabres at every turn

Irbe looked as if he were going to get another shutout. Mastering the Sabres shooters has become common practice these days for the Canes' goalie. Five periods of shutout hockey against the Sabres and it was like a routine day at the office for him. Then suddenly in the third period, two quick shots got past the Carolina goalie and the Hurricanes were in danger of losing.

Sabres defenseman Jay McKee, who returned after missing 3 games with a strained wrist, gives Hurricanes left winger Bates Battaglia a punishing check during third period action in Buffalo's HSBC Arena.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

First Barnes' picture perfect shot pierced Irbe's protective barrier and the sellout crowd in HSBC Arena suddenly had something to shout about.

"Barnes had to place the puck really well," described Irbe. "I wasn't as sharp as I wanted to be. I didn't take the short side first, which is the main job for the goalie. It was a hard shot to stop; I wish I could have it back."

As things go, the Sabres were able to score on their very next shot on Irbe, but it came six minutes after Barnes shot. Erik Rasmussen decided that the thing to do was to shoot at Irbe from the faceoff circle, like Barnes had done. Coming in on the left side, Rasmussen let go a wicked blast from the top of the left faceoff circle that got through Irbe's pads. Rasmussen was told by Sabres coach Lindy Ruff that they need to put shots on Irbe. He had told Rasmussen bluntly the shift before.

"I just got yelled at the shift before - not yelled at, you know, but kind of calmly told - that I should shoot the puck more often. Lindy just said take a chance and put it through his legs and see what happens," laughed Rasmussen. "So I got the puck and I got the chance and I shot it."

Irbe wishes he had that shot back.

"It was a hard shot to stop. I wish I could have it back," described Irbe. "The puck hit my stick blade and the bottom of my pad, and still managed to go in. It's a game of inches. An inch lower or an inch higher, and it's probably a save."

Carolina actually outshot the Sabres 23-23 in this game and it looked as if Dominik Hasek would post the shutout this time. But just as the Hurricanes had beaten Hasek on a screened shot from the point on Wednesday for the game-winner, the same happened with four minutes remaining in the game. David Karpa let loose a blast from the point that made it through a maze of players and hit the back of the net to the surprise of the Dominator. Suddenly Carolina regained Hurricane strength and was back in the game.

As the game got down to the final minute, Irbe was replaced with a sixth attacker and the Canes put more pressure on Hasek. Rasmussen was able to gain possession of the puck and throw it towards the net. Hurricanes defenseman Jeff O'Neill and Miroslav Satan chased after the puck as it headed towards the goal. Satan stretched out to take a poke at the puck and chipped into the empty net to settle the score that the Sabres had for their Wednesday loss.

Sabres Talk

Hasek had been telling his teammates how to score on Irbe for the past few days. Maybe the message finally got through.

"It was a very similar game to the first one, but today I think we created more opportunities, we created more traffic in front of Arturs and we finally capitalized," Hasek said. "It took a long time. It took 100 minutes to score against him."

Barnes also mentioned their discussions about how to score on Irbe.

"We talked last game about trying to get it up on him, trying to shoot high on him," added Barnes. "I just took a look and luckily it went in."

"Donald made a great little pass into me," Barnes described. "It was the sixth period we'd played against them. It was nice to finally get one."

Irbe knows that even with the loss, the Canes are in great shape to make the playoffs.

"Fortunately, we hold our own destiny. We still have a minor lead," said Irbe.

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