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Sabres Central

Kaspar's ghostly shot haunts Sabres
By Rick Anderson
May 9, 2001

Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek may have allowed his last goal in a Buffalo uniform as he allows this shot to get past him in overtime. Penguins' Darius Kasparaitis got the shot off from the left faceoff circle and it flies past Hasek's glove and eliminates Buffalo from the playoffs. The Pens' Robert Lang is pushed by the Sabres' Richard Smehlik, who looks on in gloom.
[AP Photo/Mike Groll]

It could be called the Tale of Two Cities. Pittsburgh and Buffalo, going in opposite directions, not only in the hockey playoffs but in fortunes in general. The Pittsburgh Penguins came back from four 1-goal deficits in two games to beat the Sabres in both of those in sudden death overtimes to clinch the second round series and move onto the Eastern Conference Finals against the New Jersey Devils. Both games ended in 3-2 victories over the Sabres.

The Sabres had been only 1:18 away from advancing to their 3rd Eastern Finals in 4 years in Game 6 when a fluke bounce started Buffalo's sudden descent out of the playoffs. The Sabres were in the position to win both games, but allowed the Penguins to get back in, tie the game, and eventually win it in overtime.

Darius Kasparaitis was one of the least likely heroes for Pittsburgh to finally drive the stake through the Sabres heart. 13:01 into overtime Kasparaitis took long 30-foot shot from around the left faceoff circle which seemed to handcuff Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek and send the Sabres once again to an early summer vacation.

"I've dreamed about this goal for nine years, you know," Kasparaitis said about his second playoff goal ever. "And I can't believe I did it. I think I'll never do it again. I can't believe I scored a goal."

To think that Kasparaitis could possibly score the last goal against Hasek while in a Sabres uniform is an hard to swallow. It was a shot that the Dominator has stopped hundreds of times in his lustrous career. In fact, he had stopped a couple harder shots only moments before.

The Sabres have some hard decisions to make in the offseason and the biggest is whether they should pick up Hasek's $9 million option and resign him. The way Hasek performed this past season, it would be obvious from this corner to hand over the reigns to backup goalie Martin Biron. The Sabres have a lot of free agents to deal with and keeping Hasek at that ungodly asking price seems to go against the Sabres "hold-the-line" policy of negotiating contracts.

It may be up to Hasek himself if he wants to retire.

"It's very possible," said Hasek retiring after this disappointing loss. "It's very possible. I mean, right now I'm still thinking about the game. Give me two, three weeks and I'll make the decision." Hasek, who made 25 saves in the game, only faced 18 shots during regulation. It was in overtime that the Penguins seemed to put it into overdrive and force the attack on Buffalo when they blistered Hasek with 10 shots in a 13-minute time span. But it would be Kasparaitis' goal that would torment not only the Sabres and their fans during the offseason, but it will probably linger in Hasek's mind for the rest of his life.

Hasek will always be known as the greatest regular season goalie in the history of the game. The 5-time Vezina Trophy winner has never had his name inscribed on the Stanley Cup. After allowing that very soft goal against Kasparaitis, Hasek's hopes of achieving that feat are now extremely bleak.

Sabres blow two leads

The Sabres scored the first goal of the game 1:50 into 2nd period when J.P. Dumont got to the left of Penguins goalie Johan Hedberg and batted in the rebound of Donald Audette's shot.

Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek may have allowed his last goal in a Buffalo uniform as he allows this shot to get past him in overtime. Penguins' Darius Kasparaitis got the shot off from the left faceoff circle and it flies past Hasek's glove and eliminates Buffalo from the playoffs. The Pens' Robert Lang goes into a victory dance and the Sabres' Richard Smehlik looks on in gloom.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

The Sabres could not protect that lead or build on it as Andrew Ference put one past Hasek 8:19 into the second period on a powerplay to notch this one up as he blistered a shot from between the faceoff circles to Hasek's left.

The Sabres got their second lead of the game only 32 seconds into the third period when Steve Heinze tipped a Jason Woolley blast from the point through Hedberg's pad and the sellout crowd in HSBC Arena was thinking Eastern Conference Finals again. However, the pesky Penguins just would not go away.

Exactly 9 minutes into the third period, the Sabres could not get the puck out of their zone and Richard Smehlik lost the puck to Robert Lang, who shot it past Hasek to tie it all up again from the left faceoff circle.

"They always came back," lamented Hasek. "It seemed like we couldn't hold the lead. When we have a one-goal lead four times and they score all four times, something is wrong."

Kasparaitis shoots down Buffalo

If one were to pick a Penguin who could possibly score in overtime and become an instant hero, Kasparaitis' name would not have even been thought of. In fact, it was Kasparaitis who received the wrath of the fans late in the third period when he actually snared the puck out of the air and tossed it over the glass into the crowd. The officials had let both teams get away with murder throughout the game, but this offense was so blatant that it was another embarrassment for the league to allow an infraction so glaring to unpunished. The fans showered the refs unmercifully with boos. As it turned out, it would be the same Kasparaitis who would dishearten the Sabres faithful even more 14 minutes later.

Of all the fantastic saves, of all the snow angels, of all the "spine like a slinky" acrobatics, Hasek may be remembered mostly for allowing Brett Hull's infamous Game 6 SCF winning goal and the one he could have stopped by Kasparaitis Thursday night. Jaromir Jagr blocked Alexei Zhitnik from retrieving the puck in the neutral zone and Lang stormed into the Sabres zone with Kasparaitis on his left. Lang fed the puck over to the defenseman at the top of the left faceoff circle and Kasparaitis ripped the shot over Hasek's glove and inside the post to end the Sabres hopes of advancing to their third Eastern Conference Finals in four years.

"It was a three on two and he got the puck and he shot over my pad and under my glove," described Hasek. "I think the puck slid in a little bit from the stick, but I don't know."

After Kasparaitis scored, there was a scrum at center ice as all the Penguins stormed out in a wild celebration to tackle Kasparaitis. The Sabres stood by in disbelief that their season had just ended and that all the hard work put forth to get this far had just gone down the drain.

"We feel shorted, there's no question," said center Stu Barnes and possible future team captain. "To start the series down, 2-0, and to battle back to the position we were in the last game with 78 seconds left to go, they tie the game on a lucky bounce. But that's hockey. The thing about is everybody in this room battled and gave it their all. To finish like we did is disappointing."

Ah, there's that reference again to the series-breaking pop fly single that drove home the winning run in Game 6. That bizarre play could possibly be remembered as long as the Hull skate-in-the-crease "no goal" by Sabres fans. With only a minute and change left in that contest and the Sabres up 2-1, a long shot was deflected high into the air by Sabres center Curtis Brown. The puck went so high that even the television camera could not pick it up. It somehow landed right in the doorstep in front of Hasek where both Sabres defenseman Rhett Warrener and Penguins owner and Hero-deluxe Mario Lemieux had a chance to swipe it. Warrener, believing that Hasek had a clear view of it, left it for his goalie to play. The only problem is that Hasek didn't see it until it was too late. Instead of clearing the puck out of danger, Warrener allowed Lemieux the golden opportunity to snare victory from the jaws of defeat. Two swipes of the puck and the Penguins had not only starved off defeat but taken over complete control of the series.

"I'll definitely be remembering that one not for just this summer but a long time," Warrener about the fluke bounce and his failure to do something to prevent the tying goal by Super Mario. "We dug ourselves a hole to start (losing the first two games) with and that was tough enough. We climbed out of it and we were playing very well. We had things under control. It was that 1:18 goal that haunts us. They got a bounce, a break. I'll definitely be thinking about what I could have, should have done."

Warrener, who played inspired hockey in the post season, will now have this haunting memory for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, Hasek will have this image of a puck flying over his glove frozen in time for eternity. His glove turned out to be frozen not the puck as Kasparaitis shot could have easily been caught. And now Hasek will probably retire his Sabres jersey and maybe his last stint in goal will be for the Czech Republic Olympic team that tries to defend its gold medal next year.

Sabres Talk

The Sabres dressing room after the game was glum to say the least.

"It's a hollow feeling right now,"said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "I can't take any consolation that we played well. What hits home right now is it was an opportunity, an opportunity that's tough to get in this business."

"They won the last game played, so they move on,"said Brown who had a solid postseason. "At the same time, it was a very tight series. It's no consolation. We lost. The toughest part about it is that is just so sudden. You never get used to that. We feel we could have done more. It just didn't happen."

Hasek has had plenty of chances to prove that he is the best goalie ever. He has done so in the regular season, but come playoff time, it always seems that an unknown or a rookie goalie outplays him by a wide margin. Such was the case with Hedberg stonewalling the Sabres throughout the series while Hasek let the team down once again when they needed a dominating performance.

"It feels so bad," moaned Hasek. "If you lose, 4-1, they're the better team. We feel like we were so close. We worked hard but when the game was on the line, we made mistakes and they capitalized."

Meanwhile, in the Penguins dressing room, the mood quite the opposite.

"We just met the budget," joked Super Mario about his squad guaranteed at least two more home playoff dates.

The "hot hand" Kasparaitis was the object of jokes all around.

"I was saying, 'Oh, no, it's Kasparaitis -- oh, yes!"' razzed Kevin Stevens. "He can't score anywhere, that guy. It was a close series, but we have Kaspar."

Kasparaitis has had dreams of scoring a series clinching tally, but usually was playing alone against an entire team in his daydreams.

"My dream was to take the puck and beat the whole team by myself," Kasparaitis said. "It didn't happen. But that's a nice goal, too."

"Buffalo was one minute away from putting us away and we got a lucky bounce. It came from there," continued Kasparaitis pointing above."The hockey gods were on our side."

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