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Sabres Central

Five loses and counting
By Rick Anderson
February 8, 2003

NHL scoring leader, Markus Naslund, gets in on Sabres goalie Martin Biron during a breakaway and scores the Canucks second goal in a 4-2 Vancouver victory.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

The Vancouver Canucks rode into town with a horde of fans that rivaled a Maple Leafs invasion. They left with a 4-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres and convinced the sellout crowd at HSBC Arena that they are prime Stanley Cup contenders.

They came in waves. The Canucks showed a dazzling style of play that had the fans gasping for air as they orchestrated their attack on Sabres goalie Martin Biron. Biron had to be especially sharp as the Canucks put a barrage of shots on him from the get-go. However, the Canucks could not be denied as Brendan Morrison opened the scoring at the 6 minute mark of the game. The Canucks came blazing down on a two-on-one towards Biron, with Markus Naslund passing off to Morrison, who roofed it over Biron's shoulder.

Later in the period, Naslund had a breakaway on Biron after Trevor Linden picked James Patrick's pocket and fed the league's top scorer with a perfect pass. Naslund put on his moves when he came in towards Biron and finally got a backhander past the amazed goalie.

"On his breakaway, he made two pretty moves,'' recounted Biron. "Most guys in this league will make two or three moves and the puck goes in the corner.''

It was Naslund's 36th goal this season. The goal and the assist on Morrison's opening tally moved him ahead of Mario Lemieux with 70 total points.

"I tried to get Biron to slide either way and give me a little opening and he almost saved it,'' described Naslund.

The Canucks stuck the dagger of death into the Sabres early in the second stanza when Artem Chubarov scored on Biron at the 1:16 mark, making it 3-0 Canucks.

The Sabres finally got on the scoreboard when Dmitri Kalinin scored on Dan Cloutier, who was playing his 44th game of the year. Cloutier was even better than Biron in this game as he made 34 saves and prevented the Sabres from ever making the game a contest. Meanwhile, Biron stopped 26 Canuck drives, but a lot of them were highlight reel variety.

Daniel Sedin and Ales Kotalik rounded off the scoring as the Sabres and Canucks put on a very entertaining show before a sellout crowd of 18,690 fans. It was only the third sellout for the Sabres this year, the first two were when the Leafs and their boisterous fans were in town. While the Canucks didn't have quite the number the Leafs draw, they did represent a good proportion of the crowd. The Sabres were offering a special promotion for Southern Ontario fans where their Canadian dollar would be accepted at par.

Five "losses" in a row

A loss is a loss to most people. However, there is an exception according to the NHL rules. If a team loses in overtime, it is not considered a "loss" as that team still gets a point. Many traditionalists are up in arms over the tinkering of the NHL points system, but that won't change this season. With the way the league interprets overtime losses, the Sabres are considered to be in a 5-game winless streak right now. They have three regulation losses along with two overtime losses in their last five games. By all rights, this losing streak has completely eliminated any hope that even the most optimistic fans had of the Sabres making the playoffs.

Tuesday night in New Jersey, the Sabres lost 4-1 to the Devils in a game they once again failed to show up for. In fact, if it weren't for the Devils logo at center ice, one would have believed the game was in HSBC Arena as only 10,598 showed up at Continental Airlines Arena. It is just possible that true blue Sabres fans made the trek to New Jersey to occupy half the Arena. Like they do in Buffalo, the current apparel fashion of Sabres fans is to come attired as empty seats.

The Sabres, who the week before were apparently hung over from Super Bowl parties when they were embarrassed by Nashville, seemed to be just going through the motions against the Devils.

"Some of our guys missed the game tonight; they're still on the All-Star break," said a miffed Lindy Ruff. "We've got a young team that didn't prepare themselves over the days off and it showed up."

Ryan Miller started in goal and his goaltending has been a little shaky as of late. Blame it on rookie jitters, but recently Biron has been the better of the two goalies. Joe Nieuwendyk had two goals along with single tallies by Patrik Elias and Tommy Albelin did the Sabres in.

"The best saves I made ended up going in the net," Miller said. "It was just one of those nights."

Once again, the Sabres faced a backup goalie and made him look All-World. This time it was Cory Schwab who looked like the second coming of Bernie Parent. Miller stopped 30 shots while the Sabres barely tested Schwab, as he was called upon to make only 19 saves.

"We had some good chances and Cory came up large," reflected Brown. "If we get a little bit anxious or don't do a good job against the trap they're turning it back on you. They did a great job of it and we didn't do a good job and it ended up costing us."

Hamister throws in the towel

As was expected, Mark Hamister was unable to get the government assistance he was counting on to help him purchase the Sabres, so on Monday he announced that he was suspending his bid to purchase the team. With governor George Pataki's state budget not having any allowance for Hamister's request, Todd Berman withdrew his support. Thus, Hamister was left holding the bag and nowhere the money to buy the team.

"We weren't going to be able to put it together and my partner became frustrated," admitted Hamister. "Had we been able to put this together, I still would have a partner."

Hamister, was trying his best to bail out the sinking Sabres ship. It became an impossible task in absence of government funds.

"This is not unlike building a boat," described Hamister. "Until the boat floats, until all the gaps are resolved, none of the pieces contribute to the level that you need them to contribute at. We need all of the pieces to work together. When there's gaps in a boat, it sinks."

Hamister had been working like he himself were running for a political campaign, and took the campaign to the streets and Albany without success.

"We have all the parts, the state has discussed some parts, the county has discussed some parts, the city of Buffalo has discussed some parts. The problem is the parts don't fit together and the result is that there are some gaps."

With Hamister dropping out, the NHL was forced to put the team back on the auctioning block. Immediately, Thomas Golisano threw his hat back into the ring. In fact, it was NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman who made the first move. He called Golisano, who was vacationing in Florida.

Golisano described the phone call from Bettman.

"He said, ‘We gave Hamister as much help and as much time as we could, but now we're interested in you.' It was as straight-forward as that," described Golisano.

Since that call, Golisano has had talks with Bettman and is moving forward in his renewed quest to take over the Sabres. He needs to find out the current financial status of the Sabres and be informed about the bankruptcy trial.

"It's important to find out financially where this team is, because, obviously, we're walking into a serious situation relative to a team that is losing money," Golisano declared. "We have to understand that degree of difficulty and what we can do to correct that."

"We don't feel like we're under any duress or anything, or that there's any great reason to jump up and down," Golisano went on, "but we want to move as quickly as we can because everyone wants to put this behind us. It's dragged on too long for the community, for the politicians, for me and especially the team."

Sabres Bankruptcy tabloid

In the upcoming weeks, there may be more news coming out of two bankruptcy courts than there is on the ice for Sabres fans. The Adelphia bankruptcy trial is being held in Manhattan, while the Sabres court case is taking place in Buffalo. The two cases are intertwined as Adelphia is owed $157 million by the Sabres. The biggest fear was that the creditors would have a huge say in finalizing any Sabres ownership deal. That fear subsided Thursday when the Adelphia bankruptcy judge, Judge Robert E. Gerber, ruled that creditors of Adelphia couldn't determine the fate of the Sabres.

The court's decision means that Adelphia won't have to go to its creditors for approval of any sale of the Sabres.

"I think this is a very good decision for sports fans in Western New York," declared Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra. "It places a lot of the decision right here."

Erie County hired attorney William F. Savino to represent its interests in the Sabres bankruptcy case. Savino agreed with Giambra's assessment of Gerber's ruling.

"This is good," concurred Savino. "This means we don't have to run back to Manhattan."

While the Sabres got this good news from downstate, they received even better news at their own bankruptcy trial in Buffalo. Bankruptcy Judge Michael J. Kaplan approved of a $15 million line of credit to help them pay off a few creditors of their own. Four of them are playing for the team.

The four players owed deferred payments are rookie goaltender Ryan Miller, Curtis Brown, Brian Campbell and Jay McKee. A total of $541,666 was owed these players last month. This was a part of deferred payments owed them as part of their contracts. If the payment was withheld, all four would become unrestricted free agents when the season comes to a close in April.

The Sabres owe Miller the most, $250,000, while McKee and Brown expect to receive $133,333, and Campbell is due $25,000.

It was reported that the total owed creditors comes to a whopping $206 million. A lot of that is the $157 million owed Adelphia and potential owner Golisano has sworn that he will not give much to that cable giant, if anything at all. That will probably be the major road block in preventing him from getting control of the team.

Sabres Talk

Morrison, who opened the scoring for the Canucks, was glad to get the scoring drought monkey off his back.

"A big sigh of relief,'' admitted Morrison about finally scoring. "I thought they were going to bring a stretcher out to carry off the gorilla that fell off my back. It was bound to happen sometime. It had gone on long enough.''

With an assist for his 62nd point, Todd Bertuzzi, who now has 62 points, got a point in his tenth straight game against the Sabres. The Naslund line that includes Bertuzzi, Naslund and four points against the beleaguered Sabres.

"That is probably the best line I've seen all year,'' Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We gave them opportunities to win the game and they did.''

The Canucks now have the best road record in the league. They now have won 17 away from B.C.

"When you're on the road you don't have to put on a show," Bertuzzi said. "Even though some people don't want to say it, I think at home you try to do that, you try to be a little cuter and it doesn't work.''

While Biron did allow four goals, he prevented a complete Sabres meltdown in the first two periods.

"Marty in the first period kept us alive," lauded Ruff. "He made some real big saves. It would have been nice to give him support."

Biron marveled at the offensive weapons the Canucks displayed.

"They kept coming hard," stated Biron. "They worked for their chances."

Ruff didn't like the Sabres initial effort in the game.

"I thought we came out real slow," brought up Ruff. "We gave them opportunities to win the game. If you look at the last two games, we've made big mistakes. You make mistakes against the best teams and you'll pay dearly for it. We have to (play) perfect hockey to win a game."

"We had opportunities in the second period to get back in the game," Ruff went on. "We missed some great opportunities."


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