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Sabres Central

This time the Sabres get the lucky bounce
By Rick Anderson
October 14, 2001

Sometimes payback comes a day late. Just ask the two Sabres who wanted to come up huge against Dominik Hasek Friday night in Detroit. Instead, they came up with their best games Sunday as they helped the Buffalo Sabres beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-1 in a matinee game. Martin Biron and Slava Kozlov had a lot to prove on Friday as they went up against Hasek and his Red Wings. The Sabres lost that one 4-2, but they blew away the still winless Pens in HSBC Arena in an almost leisurely fashion.

Penguins goalie Johan Hedberg makes an acrobatical save on Sabres Stu Barnes in the first period. The Sabres beat the Pens 4-1.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

Biron and Kozlov were stars of this game, which had three bizarre goals, two by Buffalo. Both of Kozlov's goals were of the fluke variety. Meanwhile, Biron played a stellar game, making 25 saves, and had it not been for another fluke goal would have had his first shutout of the season.

The Penguins, who made it past the Sabres last year in 7 games to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, did not look like the same team that snatched victory out of the jaws of defeat last May. In fact, their owner-captain and elder spokesman Mario Lemieux sees his team in such dire straits that he is now promising that they won't finish last this season.

"We finished last, dead last in the league," Lemieux made reference to the Penguins of 1983-84 team produced only 16 wins. "I promise you we're not going to finish last."

Lucky bounces

Maybe it was the Law of Averages starting to come around the Sabres way. The "pop fly puck" that landed in front of Lemieux's feet in game six will surely go down as one of the most bizarre goals in the history of hockey. The Sabres were just over a minute away from eliminating the Penguins and the Hockey Gods gave Super Mario a stupendous gift. He is not one to look a gift horse in the mouth and Mario promptly swatted it past Hasek to tie the game. The Pens proceeded to win that and the next game in overtime to advance to the conference finals.

Sunday, the Sabres got a little of that luck back. Sure, it is only October and a win now is not nearly as important as Game 6 in the quarter finals, but the Sabres will take it anyway. Kozlov was the recipient of a couple gifts against the Pens, but maybe it took his experience to make them happen.

Rob Ray, who got into the mix several times in the game, takes on Pens defenseman Josef Melichar right at game's end. Ray got the better of Milichar in the fracas.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

Kozlov scored the winning goal in the 2:33 into the third period when he tried to throw the puck out in front. It hit the back of Penguins' goalie Johan Hedberg and bounced in behind him. Hedberg, who was a thorn in the Sabres side during last spring's playoffs, played Kozlov properly by hugging the right post. As fate would have it, the "pass" turned into a perfect bank shot.

"He's good at banking shots in, he should have been a hoops player," joked Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "He couldn't score on the pretty opportunities, but scored on the ugly ones."

Right after that ungodly goal, the Pens came right back and got a freak goal themselves.

Biron made a spectacular save on Martin Straka 40 seconds later as he came out and dove to make a save. However, the puck went behind the net and Straka retrieved it and banked it off the prone Biron and into the net to put Pittsburgh back in the game.

James Patrick scored off a perfect feed from Vaclav Varada on a slap shot to put the game out of reach of the Penguins. The Kozlov once again got a fluky goal when he banked yet another shot off Hedberg, this time hitting his glove to hit the back of the net.

"It was very strange two goals," admitted Kozlov. "I was surprised how they went in. It was unbelievable."

A Full 60

The Sabres, who played a great first period against Detroit but then fell apart in the second, played a full 60 minutes in this one. Buffalo was ready for payback to the Pens for cutting their season short last spring. In the first period, Buffalo could have had a 3-0 lead, but Hedberg kept the Sabres at bay by making 14 saves. But Miroslav Satan opened the scoring with just 27 seconds left in the first period when he rang a shot off both goal posts and it finally came to rest behind the goal line. That lead held up until Kozlov added to it with his first bank shot.

The Sabres have winning every other game and they have to put forth the kind of effort they did against the Flyers and Pens every game in order to break .500. The victory broke a 4-game home losing streak to Pittsburgh.

Sabres Talk

Ruff thought Biron's sensational sliding save on Alexei Kovalev in the second period was the back-breaker for the Pens.

"Marty played very well," Ruff praised. "I think the turning point of the game was the save on Kovalev when the game was 2-1. I think if you want to talk about key saves at a big time of the game, that was as big as it comes. I thought he made some very good saves, but that one probably being the turning point of the game."

Mario, who returned to the Pens lineup after nursing a sore hip for the last two games, is concerned to say the least about the winless start the Penguins have had.

"It's just a matter of getting confidence back," said Lemieux. "You can see it on the ice. Everybody's a little nervous with the puck, don't want to make mistakes, and you just can't play like that."

Patrick racked up his 600th point with the goal Sunday. It puts him at No. 14 on the all-time list of defensemen.

"I think I got 550 of those points in my first 10 years and its taken the next nine to get 50," said Patrick.

Ruff put Patrick in for Dmitri Kalinin, who he made a healthy scratch.

"We've got to start using him, number 1," Ruff said about putting Patrick into the lineup for the first time this season. "He played very well for us last year. I think the message there is that we don't need soft, sloppy play and if we get that from some individuals, we're going to have to rotate some guys."

Mr Kalinin, take note.

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