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Sabres Central

Hasek blanks the Thrashers again
By Rick Anderson
March 31, 2001

Chris Gratton deflects the puck into the net as Thrashers goalie Norm Maracle attempts to stop it. Atlanta defenseman Chris Joseph (3) is unable to prevent the thrust by Gratton.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

It was Deja vu all over again. That's what happened when the Buffalo Sabres beat the Atlanta Thrashers 4-0 for the second time in a row Friday night at HSBC Arena. Sandwiched between the two identical victories by Buffalo was a 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Dominik Hasek became the second seed in the all-time active goaltenders with his 56th career shutout as posted his second straight shutout against Atlanta for his 11th of the season. Hasek has regained the form that won him five Vezina Trophies in the past and is ready to lead the team into the playoffs.

"I feel good about my game," described Hasek. "But what happened, I want to leave it behind me and get ready for the next game. I'm really excited. The team's playing well. I like the chemistry. Yeah, I'm excited."

Hasek made 30 saves in a solid effort against the Thrashers. The Sabres netminder made 25 of those saves in the last two periods, and 16 in the final stanza. It was Hasek's third shutout in his last 5 starts. With 56 career shutouts, he is one behind the active leader, the Stars' Ed Belfour. The irony of that is that Hasek started his career backup up Belfour with the Chicago Black Hawks. The Dominator was pleased with the victory.

"I didn't even think about clinching the playoffs today," said Hasek. "We just wanted to win the game. We still have five games left and, of course, we want to win many of these games. But you start mentally focusing on playoffs."

Heinze 57 spreads the wealth

Steve Heinze has been quiet these past few games. He has not added to his total of goals scored, but has quietly been mixing into the Sabres scheme of things. On Friday night, he set up the Sabres first three goals. The game was only 79 seconds old when Heinze pickpocketed Gord Murphy and went in on a two-on-one break with Miroslav Satan. He made a beautiful pass over to Satan, who put it five hole between Norm Maracle 's pads for his 27th goal this year. That turned out to be the only goal the Sabres needed as Hasek would shutout the Thrashers the rest of the way.

But Heinze was not through yet in contributing to the Sabres offensive might. Around 7 minutes later, Heinze put a shot on Maracle and it went off the Atlanta goalie. The puck came off Maracle high and Chris Gatton battened the waist high puck into the net for his 18th of the season.

Heinze also got an assist on the Sabres third goal, which came 9:26 into 3rd period. He got the puck over to Donald Audette, who flipped the puck over to James Patrick in the slot area. Patrick put a blistering shot on goal that Maracle had no chance on. Maxim Afinogenov capped off the scoring on a dazzling exhibition. He scooped up the puck behind Maracle and breezed out to the right faceoff circle. His shot beat Maracle and the Sabres had their 4th goal of the game. It was Maxim's 14th of the year.

The Sabres now head to sunny Florida, where they face the Tampa Bay Lightning on April Fool's Day and Florida the next.

Sabres Talk

Sabres defenseman Dmitri Kalinin attempts to thwart Thrashers center Herbert Vasiljevs from coming out in front of the Sabres net for a possible wrap-around. His efforts were successful as the Sabres and goalie Dominik Hasek shutout the Thrashers 4-0.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

The Thrashers were not trashing the Sabres after the game. In fact, they pity the team that plays them in the first round, especially if Hasek continues to be on top of his game.

"This is my first year in the league and I don't know all of (Hasek's) traits,"said Tomi Kallio. "If he plays like that, they're going to be one of the tough teams."

Thrashers coach Curt Fraser chipped in, "If I was a team at the top, I wouldn't want to meet these guys in the first round of the playoffs. Whoever they play, they'll be trouble."

Heinze was quick to point to Hasek as the key for the Sabres playoffs.

"Dom obviously keeps this team in a lot of games. Some nights when we don't show up for him, he's always there," said Heinze. "Dom, day in and day out, is the hardest worker on the ice. He's a great goaltender and deserves a good team in front of him."

Hasek attributes turning around his game to participating in the NHL All-Star game.

"The All-Star game was a good time for me," said Hasek. "I could see other goalies, how they play like the best goalies in the league.(I'd) practice against them a couple of days, played against them. It was just good competition in the game. I felt like I'm still a good goalie, so after the All-Star game I played much better than before."

"We have been known to struggle against the bottom end of the league, and maybe that's our fault," Sabres center Erik Rasmussen said. "We play to the level of our opponent. In order for us to be a good team we have to beat these teams this late in the season."

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff was pleased to get the playoff berth set so they could concentrate on the rest of the regular season and trying to improve their lot.

"Our goal is to try to get home ice," said Ruff. "It's a nice feeling (to clinch a playoff berth). It sums up a year where we've faced some adversity. We've had players out of the lineup, we've had young players step into our lineup. There's a lot of good in winning that game tonight."

Rhett Warrener summed up the victory when he said, "We had to beat Atlanta. We wanted to keep a good thing going. We've been fairly good since the All-Star break and with five games left we're taking a lot of pride in the way we're playing."


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