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Sabres Central

The new captain comes up big
By Rick Anderson
October 7, 2001

The Buffalo Sabres new captain had to prove his worth Saturday night in HSBC Arena. Before the opening game of the season, Stu Barnes had been appointed as the new captain of the Sabres. Unfortunately for Barnes and his teammates, Buffalo could only muster 1 goal against the Atlanta Thrashers in a 2-1 defeat. This time, Barnes was determined to prove his merit. Barnes came through, just in the nick of time as he gave the Sabres a 3-2 lead against the Ottawa Senators with only 57 seconds remaining. The lead held and the Sabres beat the Buffalo Bills in recording their first victory of the season.
The newly appointed Sabres' captain, Stu Barnes, does a victory dance after scoring the winning goal just 57 seconds before the end of regulation. Barnes goal against Senators' goalie Patrick Lalime, gave Buffalo a 3-2 victory.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

The ever amiable Barnes was the players' and coaches choice to wear the "C" for the Sabres after Buffalo had gone captainless one year. With Michael Peca sitting out in a very bitter contract dispute with the Sabres management, coach Lindy Ruff didn't give the "C" to any player out of respect to Peca. With Captain Crunch shuffled off to Long Island, Ruff wanted to get everyone's feedback on who they thought would be the best to wear the "C" and it came as no surprise that Barnes won hands down. He was also Ruff's choice.

When Barnes lit the lamp with under one minute to go in regulation against the Sens, the Arena filled with the drowning sounds of "Stuuu." A few of the Ottawa contingent attending the game may have thought the crowd was booing, but they quickly figured it out that the cacophony was for Stu.

"It could've been anybody," said the ever-humble Barnes. "We're fortunate to have so many leaders on this team."

Martin Biron, who had a somewhat flawed beginning of his reign as the Sabres No. 1 goalie in his first outing against the Thrashers when he let in a couple softies, was solid against the Senators. Biron stopped 30 of 32 Senator shots and foiled Ottawa on several great scoring opportunities throughout the game. Meanwhile, Dominik Hasek, the man Biron is replacing in the Sabres goal, now is 2-0 with the Detroit Red Wings as they beat Vancouver 4-1 Saturday night.

"It's big for the team," chirped Biron. "High emotion, high intensity. It was certainly a big test because Ottawa's been scoring some goals."

This was a feisty game, with both teams getting into the mix. Chris Gratton was throwing his weight around the entire game. He got into fracas with Shane Hnidy in the second period with both players delivering several direct hits. Gratton started the fight by cross-checking Hnidy and Shane took exception to the altercation. Gratton got two cross-checking penalties to go along with a high stick and his five minute fighting major. It appears as if Gratton is finally showing the aggressiveness the Sabres are looking from him.
Double Whammy! Rhett Warrener and Vaclav Varada give it to Ottawa center Radak Bonk during first period action.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

The Sabres haven't lost to the Senators in their last six games. Last year, Buffalo shutout the Sens in their two home contests. At least the Senators finally broke out of their scoreless funk, when they scored twice in the second stanza.

On a powerplay, the Senators kept the pressure on Biron, forcing him down to make a save on Todd White, but the puck came right back out to White, who flipped it over the

The Senators took advantage of the man advantage by scoring twice on power plays in the second period. The Senators were milling around the Sabres zone when Havlat sent a pass to Todd White, standing alone and to the left of Biron. The Buffalo netminder made a great save on the first shot, but White picked up the rebound and lifted it over Biron, hitting the roof of the net.

With Alexei Zhitnik in the penalty box, Marian Hossa when he shot from the right faceoff circle and got it past Biron on the far corner. With the Sens suddenly up 2-1, it appeared as if the Sabres were going to lose their second straight at home and follow in the Bills winless footsteps.

One of the players acquired by the Sabres in the Peca deal with the Islanders was Tim Connolly. Connolly impressed observers with his quick hands and smooth skating ability in the preseason. Right at the start of the third period, Connolly got the puck past Radek Bonk and roared up the right boards towards Senators' goalie Patrick Lalime. With Miroslav Satan storming down the left wing, Lalime was expecting a pass to the Sabres top goal-getter. Connolly decided to shoot as he closed in on Lalime and rifled the puck over the goalie's left shoulder to tie the game. It was his first goal in a Sabres uniform, a feat that is likely to become a common occurrence.

It was the Barnes goal, however, that will linger in fans minds for the rest of the season. If there is a signature moment so early in the season, this could be it. Right when the PA announcer proclaimed "One minute remaining in the game," Vaclav Varada attempted to slip it through Lalime's pads during a scrum around the crease. Curtis Brown got control of the puck and sent it over to his left, where Barnes was positioned. Barnes saw the opening and quickly lit the lamp to seal the Sabres first victory under his realm as captain.

"They were trying to shoot and it kept hitting skates," recalled Lalime. "I don't know if they even knew there was somebody there, but the puck came out right on his stick."

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Barnes was quick to redirect the glory of the moment.

"The credit goes to Brownie and V (Varada)," praised Barnes. "Brownie just dug it out of the pile, and I don't know how he even saw me. He threw it to me with an empty net. May job was easy."

With the Sabres former captain Peca shooting fireworks with the Islanders, the Sabres needed Barnes to come through for them, not only in the locker room, but on the ice. It appears as if he's ready for the challenge.

Brown explained how Barnes was the obvious choice (not only as captain but on the winning goal).

"The only think I could do was throw it in that direction and Stu was flying in there," explained Brown.

Ruff was pleased with the Sabres effort, despite going 0-8 on the powerplay and 1-16 in two games.

"We had some great opportunities," described Ruff. "There were a couple we didn't like, a couple we set up well. You don't like not getting (goals with a man advantage), but you have to guard against not getting too frustrated."

"I think Connolly was rewarded because he kept on shooting," Ruff continued. "(Afinogenov) was rewarded for turning and firing and getting the puck on net. We paid a bigger price to win that game, and it wasn't quite as fancy."

Biron made one of his best saves in the final stanza against Daniel Alfredsson, who got in all alone on the Sabres' young goalie. Biron held his ground and turned the shot aside.

"We gave up a lot of chances again," Alfredsson bemoaned. "We've got to play more disciplined. We took a lot of penalties. Whenever we'd get something going, they'd come right back."

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