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Sabres Central

Sabres survive late scare to beat Pens
By Rick Anderson
December 3, 2000

Retribution is sweet. The Buffalo Sabres made atones for the Penguins 6-4 shellacking the night before by beating them 3-2 in Pittsburgh. It was the Sabres who embarrassed the Penguins in their own building for almost three full periods until the Pens finally got two quick goals at the end.

Dominik Hasek makes one of his 22 saves as Penguins Alexei Kovalev (27) and Robert Lang (20) await any possible rebound.
[AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar]

"It was fifty-eight minutes of rock-solid hockey and then panic," described Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "When a team gets a couple quick ones like that, you worry that they might get the break."

The Sting of Jagr

There was this little matter of reparation for the five goals that he allowed the night before against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Dominik Hasek was determined to not let it happen again, especially in this second game of the home-and-home series against the Penguins. Hasek had played a stellar game against the Penguins and a little over a minute separated Hasek from his third shutout of the season.

With Buffalo up 3-0, a shutout seemed very likely for Hasek. The only problem was that he was playing against the team who has beaten him too many times the past few years. The Pens showed how explosive they could be the night before when they rocked the Sabres 6-4. What's a mere minute and a half for a team that can score goals as fast as a machine gun shoot bullets.

Someone somewhere must have been chalking up Hasek's shutout before the game was over. Jaromir Jagr, Hasek's main nemesis, was not to be deterred. Jagr roared down the right side, veered towards the middle and suddenly shot the puck right after he glided past the top of the right faceoff circle. His shot made the back of the net for the first time and Hasek's shutout bid was foiled with only 1:35 left on the clock. It was the Pens 18th shot on goal and the Dominator had been pierced by his fellow countryman once again.

After Jagr's goal, the Penguins pulled Garth Snow when they won the faceoff and suddenly the Pens were swarming all around Hasek. It was Jagr again behind the net and he passed to Robert Lang standing to the left of Hasek. Lang spotted Martin Straka all alone on Hasek's right side. It was like tic-tac-toe and Straka had a wide open net to shoot at as the Pens got within one goal with still over a minute remaining. With the ascendancy of the Penguins scoring machine, the Sabres were clinging onto for dear life.

"You never know because they are one of the best offensive teams in the NHL," Hasek acknowledged. "Even with one minute left and three goals up, it is not over. We made mistakes, it looked like the game was over. We stayed maybe too long on the ice and the defense was tired. Jaromir has speed and it is tough to stop him."

With only seven ticks left on the clock, the had to survive one last faceoff deep in their zone. The Pens picked up the puck and fired on Hasek. The Dominator had to be at his finest as he stopped Jagr and Alexei Kovalev at least twice on great scoring opportunities as the Penguin made one last desperation flurry. Hasek was laying on his back after having made Gumby-like saves as time ran out.

"The puck was bouncing," said a relieved Hasek. "I don't think I made a save, I don't even know. There were too many sticks out there."

The Sabres seemed to be holding on by a thread.

"To be honest, I closed my eyes and prayed it wasn't going in," Chris Gratton admitted.

Sabres turn the tables

Lindy Ruff must have given his troops quite a tongue-lashing after their degrading defeat Friday night at home against the Penguins. Ruff's main task was to get his defensemen to show up for the game. They were AWOL the night before in Buffalo when the Penguins were allowed to skate unmolested into the Sabres zone.

Jaromir Jagr finally got untracked as the game wore down. Jagr got his first goal in 8 games when he scored with 2:35 remaining in the contest. Here he tries to thread a pass through Sabres' forward Erik Rasmussen..
[AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar]

It was like night and day for the Sabres defense. The hitting suddenly reappeared as did the checking. The Sabres' D shutdown Jagr and Company for almost the entire game. That was enough to let them escape Pittsburgh with a hard-earned two points in hand.

The Sabres opened the scoring four minutes into the game when Miroslav Satan got his second goal in two nights while the Sabres had a powerplay. Stu Barnes fed him in the slot area and Satan got off a wrist shot that beat Flyers' goalie Garth Snow.

That was the only scoring until the Sabres opened things up in the second stanza. Vladimir Tsyplakov converted Rhett Warrener's perfect pass into a goal and the Sabres suddenly appeared as if they could gain control of the game. The control turned into sheer domination when there was flurry of shots taken at Snow and Vaclav Varada pounced on a loose puck in front of the big goalie and rammed it home.

With a 3-0 lead, the Sabres now had the Penguins playing Buffalo's style of hockey. With Hasek playing in his Dominator fashion, the Penguins needed Jagr to elevate his game. That didn't happen until the last minute of the game.

"Last night, we would get the lead and they had to open the game up," Jagr elucidated. "That was to our advantage. Today, we were three goals behind and that was tough. If we had been one or two behind, it would have been different. But three goals is too much."

Strange indeed how the two games of the home-and-home series were at the opposite ends of the spectrum. Friday night, the Pens had the Sabres playing their wide open, free-wheeling hockey. Saturday night, it was back to the grind and check game the Sabres thrive at.

"When we got down two, they were sitting back, playing smart, getting the puck in deep," said Penguins defenseman Jeff Norton. "And we got away from our game. Everybody got to (playing) a little individual, and that's when you really get in trouble."

Czech vs. Czech

Hasek finally won a battle between one of his countrymen. He was 0-3 going into the game in Pittsburgh. In the month of November, Flyers goalie Roman Cechmanek had out-dueled Hasek in the battle of the goalies. Cechmanek allowed only one goal in the two meetings between the clubs as the Flyers squeezed four points out of the Sabres. Friday night, Jagr got in first point in five games against Hasek. Saturday in Pittsburgh, Jagr finally scored his first goal in 8 games against his teammate from the Gold Medal winning Czech Republic Olympic team. Hasek seems to be the tonic that cures what ails Jagr.

"I feel better right now, these last two games," said Jagr about finding his scoring touch against Hasek.

Hasek must be feeling better also. This was the first time he had beaten the Pens in Pittsburgh since March 23, 1996. That spanned four seasons of frustration for Hasek and the Sabres, who had a 0-7-3 record since their last victory in 1996. Even the victory back then, Hasek allowed 5 goals as the Sabres escaped with a 7-5 victory.

Another thing Hasek can feel good about is not allowing more than 2 goals against the well-oiled Penguin offensive machine.

Sabres Talk

If Lindy Ruff didn't have an ulcer before, he may have gotten one while watching he Sabres 3-0 lead collapse in the last minute of the game.

"We got careless," said Ruff about the near-fatal meltdown. "The last 30 seconds it was just panic. We played 58 minutes of rock-solid hockey. Overall, we had them frustrated."

Vaclav Varada celebrates with Curtis Brown after scoring the game winner in the second period.
[AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar]

"We didn't give them anything on the rush" Ruff continued. "We didn't give them a shot the first 12 minutes of the hockey game. I thought we really hunkered down and followed the game plan."

The Penguins want a new arena. It appears that they are playing poorly at home in order to get their Christmas wish. After losing to the Sabres, the Penguins record at home is now 6-5-1. Mellon Arena has the road teams feeling at home. Maybe that's why the Sabres wore their home uniforms in Pittsburgh.

"You usually hope to have a solid winning home record, and .500 on the road is usually the goal," said Penguins goalie Garth Snow. "Right now, it seems the opposite is true."

Penguins coach Ivan Hlinka is perplexed about how his team plays at home.

"We are more comfortable on the road, smarter," admitted Hlinka. "We get a lot of chances, a lot of breakaways (away from Mellon Arena). Back home, if you take all the games, it's all the same way. We have to talk about that. We have to change it. We have to get better starts, and we have play more simple."

Hlinka coached Hasek on the 1998 Czech Olympic team and knows how dominating Hasek can be. However he thinks way too many goalies become the second coming of Hasek when they take to the Mellon Arena ice.

"Every goalie is great against us here," moaned Hlinka. "We made (The Hurricane's Arturs) Irbe, last time, the best goalie around the world."

"Our game is too complicated," Hlinka continued. "(On the road) we start cycling the puck and we get hold of the puck more. It's easy for the other team to play against us when we are here."

The Penguins now know exactly how the Sabres were feeling after Friday's game.

"It's about how hard we work," said Alexei Kovalev. "And we're not working as hard as we're working on the road."

Penguins defenseman Andrew Ference blamed his teammates for trying to make pretty passes.

"They picked off a dozen passes through the middle,"said Ference. "And that kills anybody's momentum, because the (Penguins) forwards are trying to break into the zone, and they're flying, and the 'D' men are trying to jump up, and they're flying, and then all of a sudden you're stopping dead and having to defend."

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