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Sabres Central

Sabres smash Pens to get back in series
By Rick Anderson
May 2, 2001

What a turnaround! The Buffalo Sabres blasted the Pittsburgh Penguins out of their own rink Wednesday night by embarrassing the Pens 5-2 before 17,148 shocked fans in the Mellon Arena. After losing their first two games at home, the Sabres came back and stuck it to the Pens to tie the series at 2-2. And who says having home ice advantage is really an advantage? In this series, it has been the road team with the definite edge.

Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek makes the save of the game when he stops fellow Czech Martin Straka on a penalty shot during the third period.
[AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar]

The Sabres once again scored 3 goals in the third period, just like they had in Game 3 when they beat Pittsburgh 4-1. Stu Barnes scored two goals and Dominik Hasek stopped a penalty shot by Martin Straka to highlight the impressive Buffalo victory.

"It's big," said Barnes about the Sabres comeback in the series. "Coming in here down two and knowing we had a huge battle ahead of us. We had a great game in Game Three and we got that one. You know 3-1 isn't much better than 3-0. We wanted to make sure we got the win tonight. But this is far from over. It's a great hockey club over there. We can't let up for a second."

To say this game was portentous for the Sabres is an understatement. A loss would have just about sealed the Sabres fate for an eventual elimination at the hands of the Penguins. To finally get back into the series, the Sabres had to win this game and they did so going away.

The third period was a true gem for the Sabres. They not only scored goals by Vladimir Tsyplakov and the two by Barnes, but they completely shut down the high octane Penguin offense by allowing only three shots on Hasek. To make matters worse, one of those 3 was the missed penalty shot by Straka.

Sabres come loaded for Penguin

This was Game 7 for Buffalo. Had they lost, it was almost certain curtains for them. The Sabres set the tone early in this game. Buffalo started the game by putting on a lot of pressure on Penguin goalie Johan Hedberg. Swirling around the Pittsburgh net, the Sabres were finally able to convert when J.P. Dumont wrapped the puck around and was able to get it under Hedberg's stick and pads to put the Sabres up 1-0 only 1:28 into the game. The hard work of Stu Barnes and Donald Audette kept the puck the Pens zone and led to Dumont's third goal of the playoffs.

With Jaromir Jagr back in the lineup after missing two games with a shoulder injury, the Sabres knew they had to put some goals in before the Penguins would eventually get theirs. Pittsburgh tied up the game on a powerplay when Straka's long screen shot got past Hasek 11:10 into the period. That goal came after Hasek made several spectacular saves.

Late in the third period, Alexei Zhitnik went off for holding and the Pens had a glorious opportunity to take the lead. But Curtis Brown picked off Alexei Kovalev's pass and Brown went in on a 2-on-1 with Miroslav Satan. After the two passed back and forth, Brown was able to beat Hedberg to put Buffalo in front 2-1 to end the period.

"Welcome to hockey," declared Brown. "It's all about momentum and bounces and timing. Those are all huge plays."

With the teams playing 4 a side, the Penguins tied it again when Jagr and Mario Lemieux played their usual passing games and Janne Laukkanen fired another screen shot that beat Hasek and the game looked like it was going to be a close one. Laukkanen's tying goal came at the 5:24 mark of the second stanza and the score remained tied at 2 until the third period explosion by the Sabres.

Power Surge

The Sabres scored 3 goals in the third period in Monday's game against the Pens. However, their last one was an open net goal by James Patrick. Wednesday night, it appeared as if the Sabres had finally cracked the Steel Curtain that Hedberg had installed in front of the net the first two games of the series.

The Sabres Stu Barnes raises his stick in joy after putting one past Penguins goalie Johan Hedberg in the third period. Barnes, the former Penguin, scored 2 against his former teammates.
[REUTERS Photo/Jason Cohn]

Barnes, the player the Sabres got in exchange for Matthew Barnaby two years ago, got the Sabres in the lead again when he scored 4:44 into 3rd period. Barnes was able to split the defense and stand in front of Hedberg, deflecting a shot by Donald Audette from the right faceoff circle. Barnes was exuberant about scoring what turned out to be the game winner in front of his former teammates.

Then came the play of the game at 8:07 of the third period. Straka was hauled down after he broke in on Hasek on a breakaway and the refs awarded him a penalty shot. Straka skated in on Hasek to the goalie's left to start off the penalty shot. Hasek slid down to make the save, putting his pads to cover the left post as Straka put it squarely on his pads with a backhander. This marked the second straight penalty shot that Hasek has foiled in the playoffs. He also stopped Mark Recchi when the Flyers were awarded a shot in the first round.

"What did I do wrong? I should have let Mario take the shot," remarked Straka.

"It was obviously a big stop," said Penguins owner and superstar Mario. "It would have tied the game and we would have gotten the momentum back."

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said the save was the absolute turning point in the game.

"Look up enormous and write it down," Ruff said. "It was a huge time in the game for us. If they score, you probably see a sag. If he makes the save, it just lifts the whole bench."

Hasek maintains that he was as cool as a cucumber facing his fellow countryman Straka.

"I've been through it many times," admitted Hasek about having to face a penalty shot. "Sure, I was a bit nervous. But I tried to stay calm, don't do too much and wait for what the player is going to do. He has to make the first move, maybe two moves. But he has to make the right one. I was waiting until he made a move."

After Hasek made his tremendous stop on the penalty shot, one could see the Sabres spirits lift even higher. They had definitely solved not only Hedberg but the Penguins "Left-Wing Lock" that had plagued Sabres shooters for the first two games and the previous regular season game between the two clubs.

"I think they figured out the Left-Wing Lock," admitted Lemieux. "I think we'll have to throw that one away and come up with a new one."

The Penguins had better do some quick searching for a new strategy to cope with the sudden Sabres surge in scoring if they want to stay in the series. The Sabres were held in check with the "Lock" in the first two games, but Sabres coach Lindy Ruff made sure they started shooting the puck in and digging for it instead of trying to skate through the lock.

Six minutes after Hasek made the save of the series thus far, the Sabres clinched the victory when Tsyplakov got his first playoff goal ever. Tsyplakov got past Marc Bergevin and went into the slot area where he grabbed the rebound of Vaclav Varada's shot and pounded it past Hedberg.

With two minutes left in the contest, Barnes stuck it to his former teammates again when he scored his second of the game on a powerplay.

Five goals on Hedberg and suddenly the Sabres no longer fear the Moose. In fact, they must be licking their chops in anticipation to Saturday afternoon's game in Buffalo. Can another 8-0 whipping be too out of line for the Surging Sabres?

Sabres Talk

After losing two straight at home, the Penguins are wondering if they can get back on track again. Last year, the Penguins won the first two against the Flyers only to lose the next four and bow out of the playoffs.

Curtis Brown scores a short-handed goal on Penguins goalie Johan Hedberg during the first period. Brown had gone on a 2-on-1 break with Miroslav Satan and the two combined for the second Buffalo goal. The Sabres went on to win 5-2 and tied the series at two games apiece.
[AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar]

"They were faster, they outplayed us and they played a really responsible game," admitted Penguins coach Ivan Hlinka. "We didn't skate. We didn't get any transition game. We were too slow."

The rest of the Pens seemed much more confident of getting the lead in games over Buffalo when the series resumes there on Saturday.

"But this is the same as them winning up there twice and us winning here twice," said Super Mario. "It's 2-2, and we're still in pretty good shape."

Kevin Stevens was even more positive.

"I think we're the better team," Stevens said. "I'm still confident, and everybody on this team should be confident. We won two, they won two."

Sabres defenseman Jason Woolley tried to define how the road team seems to have the advantage in this series.

"We were trying to force things at home, and you can't be playing run and gun with these guys," Woolley said. "We were much more patient here and relied on our defense. At home, you're always trying to put a show on for the fans."

Ruff was proud of his troops, shutting down the famed Mario-Jagr line and then taking it to them to light up the scoreboard.

"I thought we got off to a pretty good start in the first period and then had to weather a storm," Ruff said. "We looked for mistakes and determined to play sound defense in our end."

Hasek has been turning a few heads during practice this week. He has been taking a shift as a forward, shooting at reserve goalie Martin Biron. Being superstitious like most goalies, Hasek thought that it worked before Monday's victory, so he continued his practice shots during Wednesday morning's practice.

"I skated in the morning with the forwards the last game," said Hasek. "We won the game, so I didn't change anything I did before the game today. It seems like it works."

A reporter asked Hasek how he would shoot on him if he were a forward taking a penalty shot.

"Ah, hah," laughed Hasek. "I won't say. It is a secret. There are many holes. It all depends if you hit the hole."

Ah, the hole theory again. Hasek told doubting reporters before the Flyers series that Roman Cechmanek had "many holes" in his game. The Sabres all-time goalie said the same about Hedberg when the Swedish goalie shut down the Sabres forwards in the first two games of this series. Maybe Hasek is showing the forwards exactly where to shoot, thus explaining his taking a forward position during practices.

The Sabres defensemen have all the confidence in Hasek to protect them when they decide to pinch and help the forwards out in the offensive attack.

"I'm thinking to myself, "I'm glad Dominik Hasek is my goalie' "said Rhett Warrener. "I really was. He's got to be one of the best ever, one on one. We had a lot of confidence in him, and he showed us why."

"Give Hedberg credit," Woolley added. "He's played great, and it's still 2-2. But I sure think we have the better goalie. In fact, I know we have the better goalie."

Hasek commented on his nerves of steel when facing Straka on the penalty shot.

"Confident? I would not say confident," said Hasek about facing Straka on the penalty shot. "I hope I can make a save. I know Martin well. I didn't expect him to go to his backhand. I expected him to go five-hole or maybe up high, and he made a move to his right side and I was ready for that. So what can I say?"

Speak about the unconventional Czech. It must have something to do with their national heritage. Jagr outdid Hasek after practice on Wednesday. With reporters swirling all around to get an interview with the star scorer, Jagr almost caused a mass exodus when he came out wearing a mask of the blonde girl from the from the movie "Sugar & Spice." The Czech ploy sure threw the reporters into hysteria, as they could not stop laughing at the sight.

One reporter asked "Are you a dumb blond?"

"We're going to find out," Jagr replied with a smile behind the mask.

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