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Sabres Central

Deja Vu All over again!
By Rick Anderson
November 16, 2000

Flashback to June 20, 1999. Brett Hull, standing clearly in the crease, slams home the goal to win the Stanley Cup before a houseful of disappointed fans in HSBC Arena. Back to the present, it's Brett Hull once again dashing the hopes and dreams for the Sabres faithful in the same arena to force the game into overtime. Hull just has that knack of destroying the Sabres and the Dallas Stars are thanking their lucky Stars that they have this Buffalo weapon.

Brett Hull does it again! Here he scores by flipping the puck past a sprawled Dominik Hasek late in the third period to tie the game. The Sabres and Dallas Stars played to a 2-2 tie.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

The Stars once again sent the Buffalo fans home in a bitter mood when they wiped out a late 2-1 Sabres lead with Hull's goal and skated to a 2-2 tie.

The signs were there and the fans wanted to get their last word in about the "No Goal" fiasco that took place that hot June night/morning in '99. One sign was taped to the back wall in the upper deck in Section 327 which read "STILL NO GOAL." Seventeen months had passed since Hull's last goal in the arena. Maybe time has a way of healing wounds in the hearts of many Sabres fans. Only 17,106 fans attended the matchup between the two Stanley Cup finalists and one would think that there would have been more electricity in the air. As it was, the few signs that were generated by the fans did not display the passion that was prevalent in Western New York following the bitter defeat of Game 6 in triple overtime almost a year and a half ago.

"Yeah, (the goal's) not quite as big (as the in-the-crease goal) but, good for us right now because we've been having a little trouble lately," a happy Hull said. "It was a great game."

"The puck just seems to be following him around the front of the net," chimed in Mike Modano. "If that happens to a player like that, more than often he's going to score."

No controversy this time

No one could protest Hull's goal on this cold November night in Buffalo. The Sabres had just scored what appeared to be the winning goal just 46 seconds earlier when Chris Gratton whacked to the puck behind Eddie Belfour with around 5 minutes left in the third period. After the faceoff, the Stars went on the attack, swarming around Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek like angry bees. The Sabres could not get the puck out of their zone and the Stars relentless with their pressure. Hasek lost his stick in the commotion and Jere Lehtinen got a shot off from the right circle that he stopped. But the rebound went right to Hull, who was positioned to the left side of the net and he banged off Hasek's pad into the net.

When the red light signaled a Dallas goal, it was as if all the air got sucked out of HSBC Arena. The fans, who were celebrating deliriously just moments before knew that Hull had once again spoiled their party. This time no one could blame the video judge, the refs or the NHL rulebook. The finger of blame had to be pointed directly to the Sabres on the ice who could not clear the puck out of the zone.

"I just felt where the puck was, that the best spot for me was off that post and it came right to me," Hull described the play.

If Sabres fans had some animosity towards Hull before this early season meeting between the clubs, their hatred probably doubled after Hull dashed their hopes for the second straight time.

"I don't know if I've played in a better game this year," a joyous Hull said. "Lots of emotion in the crowd. I think you've got two teams with 20 guys still left from 2 years ago trying to prove something."

"As a goal scorer that's all you want to do is get those big goals," continued Hull. "For us early in the year that's a big goal, especially playing against a quality team like the Sabres. I just snuck off to the left post and it came right to me."

It was the same Lehtinen-to-Hull connection that wrecked havoc on the Sabres season 17 months earlier. We will not go into detail about that goal - it is burned into the memory of all Sabres fans and players alike. The goal Wednesday night could have been prevented and Hasek was kicking himself after the game about his part in Hull's goal.

"I made a mistake," Hasek admitted. "After I lost my stick, I couldn't make the save I wanted to make. I gave the puck exactly on Brett Hull 's stick, and he was wide open."

No Goal revisited

"It was deja-vu, I guess," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff after the game.

Earlier in the day, Ruff had admitted that he still hasn't gotten over the hurt from that Stanley Cup debacle. Maybe if he had gotten his club in the frame of mind to stop the Stars in their tracks, especially after Gratton's goal, instead of revisiting the last "No Goal," the Sabres would have gotten the monkey off their backs. Instead, the "No Goal" nightmare lingers on.

Hull will have no part of being the voodoo doll for Sabres fans.

"I think everyone's got to remember that all I did was score the goal," Hull said. "I don't make the rules. It really wasn't up to me if the goal counted. I just happened to be lucky enough to score that goal."

It's time for Ruff and his players to get over it once and for all. Hopefully, this game will be the bridge the Sabres can cross to finally get into the present so they can concentrate on the long season in front of them. Last year, the "Stanley Cup Hangover" seemed to daunt them the entire season. They started out their season poorly, not winning until their 8th game of the year and just barely made the playoffs. Then the Philadelphia Flyers eliminated them in 5 games in the first round of the playoffs.

Sabres strike first

The Sabres started off on the offensive as they were awarded three straight power plays. After Belfour denied them their first two chances, Curtis Brown got the Sabres on the board. He ripped a slap shot that fooled Belfour and the crowd went ballistic.

Jere Lehtinen (26) is pushed by Sabres defenseman Richard Smehlik as he tries to position in front of Sabres goaltender Dominik Hasek.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

Mike Keane tied up the game around 4 minutes later when Ted Donato found Keane all alone in front of a gapping net.

"He (Keane) was already on the other side of the net when he returned the puck to the first post and he caught me by surprise," Hasek commented on the play. "You think about it and maybe I could do something different but on the other hand you have to give him credit because it was a great play."

From that goal until the two lightning strikes late in the third period, it was a battle between two great goaltenders. All told, Belfour had to make 19 saves while Hasek is credited with 26. However, both of them made superlative stops to keep the score down.

With 3/4 of the third period over, the Sabres got the go-ahead goal by Gratton. Maxim Afinogenov threaded a pass to Doug Gilmour. Gilmour found Gratton staring at an open side of the net and Gratton put the puck in the net faster than anyone could say his first name. With the assist on Gratton's goal, Gilmour finally surged ahead of another Sabre great, Dale Hawerchuk, into the 13th spot for career NHL points.

Having the veteran Gilmour on his line is not taken lightly by Gratton.

"He's got great vision," Gratton praised the master. "It's amazing how he finds the open guy."

Sabres Talk

Hasek talked about a big Hull goal that wrecked another game.

"I tried to pick the puck up behind the goal line and actually I threw the stick and the puck banked off my stick," Hasek described the play. "If I had a stick it would be an easy save. With the stick they would never score the goal. I tried to kick my pads and I was there but he put the puck under the crossbar. Brett Hull, from there, he never misses an open net like that. My pad was there, I tried to kick it but he put it under the crossbar. He's a great goal-scorer. When the net is open for him he's going to score. There's nothing I could do at the time."

When Miroslav Satan was given the unheard of 6 minutes in penalties (3 minors), the Sabres knew that their backs would be against the wall with the great Star power machine. Instead of folding, the Sabres played one of their best short-handed trials of the season, limiting Dallas to only 4 shots on net. The Sabres got a well deserved standing ovation when Satan finally stepped back on the ice and the kill was complete.

"It was one of those situations where if you don't kill it off it really goes against you," said Brown. "Obviously it's tough trying to kill off six minutes like that with a team with a power play like that. It was a real good kill."

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