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Nikolishin's goal beats Sabres in OT
Sunday, September 26, 1999

Dominik Hasek returned between the pipes last night in the only home preseason game for the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres lost 2-1 to Washington in overtime, but the main concern was Hasek's health. He appeared recovered from his hernia operation and is ready for the regular season to start.

"It was a good test," Hasek said. "Of course, I felt a little bit rusty in the beginning, but it's the first game of the season. I'm still a little behind."

The last time Hasek played a hockey game, it was the infamous "No Goal" Game Six of the Stanley Cup Finals. That was when Brett Hull scored what has become the most controversial goal in hockey history. Hull's skate was in the crease as he put the puck behind Hasek and there has been so much debate and controversy since that even a web site called "" has evolved and been in a legal dispute with the league.

During the latter part of last season, Hasek was bothered by a groin pull which was complicated by a hernia. The hernia was operated on during the summer and Hasek has been slowly recuperating and taking a bigger work load.

"Most importantly, I felt well physically and didn't have any problems," the Dominator said. "I'll play one more game and get ready for the season."

Hasek played his first live hockey since that Hull goal and looked good in making 15 saves in two periods. The only goal to get by him was a screen shot by Glen Metropolit in the first period. He did make a couple Hasek-like saves that got the crowd of over 12,000 up on their feet.

Since he hasn't had any setbacks in training camp, Hasek feels he's ready to roll next Saturday when the Sabres open their season in Detroit.

"I feel very good in the practices, and everything looks OK, " Dominik said. " I need five, maybe 10 more practices. After an hour of practice, I feel more tired than I used to feel. I'm not in the best shape yet."

Even more impressive in the losing effort was Martin Biron, who is doing everything in his power to stick with the big club. Everyone is assigning him to Rochester when the final roster is set. Even Lindy Ruff last night in his post game conference said he cannot see too much positive in "having Biron sit behind Hasek all season when he could be getting valuable playing time in Rochester." He said that both goalies need and want to play a lot and Biron would get a lot more time down in the American Hockey League.

Biron, however, is not listening to all the would-be Turks and is playing as if his life were on the line. And that literally almost came true last night. Biron getting only one period of play had to make the most of it. With the score tied 1-1, Jaroslav Svejokovsky caused a commotion in Biron's face and bodies and fists starting flying in from everywhere. Biron quickly got out of the crease, but when both Peter Bondra and Witt teamed up against one Sabres, Biron decided to help his teammate out. He took on Witt and the two were exchanging punches when Washington goalie Craig Billington tore down the ice to join the fracas. Biron got a few good jabs in and afterwards, Hasek was seen smiling over the incident and laughing it up with Biron. Biron also had to have his hand attended to by the team doctor. The hand will probably be a little bruised today after smacking a couple of helmets.

After the skirmish, the Sabres were two men short and Biron did his best Hasek impersonation, and then some. It was the Marty Show as he stopped a barrage of shots and used his quick glove to stymie the Capital attack. At one point, Bondra skated in alone on Biron and the Buffalo goalie made a sliding save, only to have Bondra get the rebound three feet away and try to flip one past the sprawled netminder. Biron showed his quick catching glove and snared to bullet as it was heading into the net.

Near the end of the third period, the Capitals were given a penalty that carried into the overtime. Under the new overtime rules, teams skate 4 players plus a goalie. With the man advantage, Buffalo had 4 skaters to Washington's 3. Gonchar was given a penalty before the first one expired, so the Sabres now had a 5-on-3 situation. Ruff put a young forward on the point, but it backfired after the first penalty expired as the puck was coughed up and Bondra and Andrei Nikolishin had a two on none breakaway. Biron stopped Bondra again, but Nikolishin put the rebound past the fallen goalie to end the game at 2:05 in the overtime period. Shades of the Eastern Conference Championship two years ago!

Biron made 18 saves in one period and proved once again that he is the better of the two backup goalies. Dwayne Roloson has been hampered with a groin injury during camp, but feels that he's ready to go anytime when called upon. And that puts Ruff on the spot. Most of the fans and media are clamoring for Biron to be Hasek's backup this year and Ruff feels that would be bad for the young goalie's development. Another year in Rochester is just what the Biron needs, according to Ruff and the rest of the Sabres brass. My preference is just the opposite. Biron has proven what he can do in the AHL, recipient of all the goalie awards last season in that league. What Hasek's heir-apparent needs right now is some time under fire. He needs to feel the pressure, make the mistakes and the adjustments to become a big-league goalie. Another year in Rochester could very well do some harm to his confidence. But Ruff doesn't seem to see it that way.

The Sabres took the lead in the first period on a rare goal by Rob Ray. Erik Rasmussen came up with the puck around the right faceoff circle and passed the puck off the Ray, who got this stick down to direct it past Billington. It was similar to the goal he scored against Toronto in the Eastern Conference championship late this spring.

All eyes were on the flashy Russian, Maxim Afinegonov last night. He had a couple of break-always, but failed to score. His skating and passing abilities remind a lot of people of Gilbert Perreault when he was in his prime. With Miro Satan still holding out, Afinegonov is more than good shot of making this squad. Some have compared his style to being a combination to Pavel Bure and Bobby Orr. I like the merging of Perreault and Pat LaFontaine.

The two combatants of last night's game, the Sabres and Caps, will open the Sabres home slate on Friday October 8th. There were plenty of fights in last night's game and even Bondra went after Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre, which was a foolish move indeed. Jean-Luc decked him a couple good punches and finally landed on top of Bondra. The third period was reminiscent of a Stanley Cup playoff series as the two teams battled it out with sticks, gloves and fists. Both teams knew that they would be meeting each other in just two weeks.

Off the ice, the Sabres are very slowly signing some of their restricted free agents. First Geoff Sanderson signed his contract, and Dixon Ward and Jason Woolley's contracts were negotiated by an arbitrator. Then Wayne Primeau decided it was time to suit up as did Stu Barnes this week. Yesterday, Vaclav Varada came to terms with the Sabres on a two-year, $2.3 million contract. When Varada lands in Buffalo early next week, he'll ink the contract and rush to practice as he only has less than a week to prepare for the season opener. Last year, Varada scored 7 times and had 24 assists while making only $325,000. Some consider him the best checking forward on the team, but Mike Peca will also get some votes in that category. Varada will not be that rusty when he reports to camp, as he has been playing in an elite Czech league while he has been holding out.

"I couldn't stand staying here any more," Varada said. "I was kind of pushing my agent to sign. I'm happy to go and play again. I can't wait to see the guys."

Now the Sabres are down to the final four to be signed: Satan, Jay McKee, Rhett Warrener and Curtis Brown. Right now, McKee and Warrener would seem to be the most crucial in getting back on the ice. The two became a gruesome twosome last season as a defensive paring, kicking up the physical aspect of the game for Buffalo. They were an essential part of the Sabres drive to the Stanley Cup Finals last spring. Satan will be hard to sign. He's coming off a 40-goal season and those kind of players are hard to come by in the NHL these days. It's rumored that Satan is demanding between $4-5 million, while the Sabres are countering with half that amount.

"Discussions continue with everybody," Darcy Regier, the much maligned Sabres GM said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to move guys in on a daily basis or every couple days. That would be nice."