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Sabres Central

Rasmussen burns Leafs with late goal
By Rick Anderson
October 28, 2000

It was an wild and eerie night in Buffalo Friday night as the Buffalo Sabres won Game 1 of the QEW Series against the Toronto Leafs 2-1. Erik Rasmussen scored the winning goal with a little over 5 minutes left in the game to cap off an electric night at the Marina.

The Leaf's Mats Sundin and Buffalo's Miroslav Satan battle for the puck during the first period in a game between the two clubs Friday in Buffalo. The Sabres went on to win 2-1.

It was a night when a sea of blue and white descended on HSBC Arena along with a lot of people wearing Halloween costumes. The Toronto Maple Leafs were invading Buffalo and everyone knew what to expect when these two teams get together. With over 9,000 fans representing each team in the festive Arena trying to drown each other out, the teams played to a feisty game.

"It was a tough game down low," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "Everything we got we worked for. You can say it was playoff atmosphere out there. You could hear the Toronto fans and everybody got involved. Both teams gave a great effort."

Rasmussen scored in his second straight game and his timing couldn't have been better for the Sabres. Everyone has been waiting for the 6-2, 205 pound 23-year old to really break the ice in the NHL. In the past two games, Rasmussen has proven that he is ready for prime time.

Rasmussen took the puck from behind his own goal line, raced up the middle and through two Leaf defensemen before passing the puck to Vaclav Varada. Varada then threaded the needle to Dave Andreychuk, who got a shot on net. Erik got in to Healy's left and got the rebound while sliding backwards on his skates behind the net. Rasmussen slid the puck off Healy's pads for the winning goal. It was the icing on the cake for Rasmussen.

This marked the second straight game that Rasmussen took the fans' breath away with breakout skating. The Sabres No. 1 draft pick of 1996 seems ready to explode on the scene.

"I got a lucky bounce tonight,"exclaimed Rasmussen. "Andy had a great chance tonight. Actually, I thought it went in the net. I just got lucky and threw it off his pad. Lindy (Ruff) and the coaching staff keep telling me to escape with the puck."

Two nights before, on Wednesday against Carolina, Rasmussen put on a move on ‘Canes defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh that was akin to a Gil Perreault move and broke in alone on goalie Tyler Moss. Moss had no chance on Rasmussen's backhander. Rasmussen's rush up the ice on Friday was just as spectacular, as he roared up the ice before passing it off to Varada.

"I was the first guy back and Jay (McKee) said ‘Skate, skate, skate.' Actually, Jay got my mind thinking about skating. I came up and threw it over to V (Varada) on the other side and I just went to the net. All of a sudden, Andy came in on the back door and he got the puck. I was standing right by the side of the net at the time. He shot and I thought it was going into the net, so I backed off on the play and the next thing I know, I just saw the puck laying there. I just went and wacked at it and got a lucky goal."

Rasmussen, who accepted the $485,000 initial offer the Sabres made him in the offseason, knows that this is his chance to really up his ante next summer when his one-year contract expires. One of the conditions Erik set before signing the contract was for more playing time. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff is granting him his wish.

"Erik's ice time has been pretty consistent," Ruff said. "I think it has paid some dividends. It put Erik in some important situations. There was a situation there, I was playing him head-to-head against Sundin. We knew he was coming, we just took the Brown line off - we tried to give them a shift against the Domi line - we gave Erik that responsibility, head-to-head, and he went out and scored the goal."

If Rasmussen continues to blow past opponents like they are standing still and nets a few more, Ruff will have no choice but to give him even more playing time.

"He started that play (Friday's goal) from below our goal line and blew by everybody," Ruff said in awe of Rasmussen's speed and drive. "You hope to see this just keep snowballing, because he's gaining confidence and he's making plays now that he normally doesn't make."

The game started as if Dominik Hasek was going to have another bad game. With just 3 ˝ minutes gone in the game, Gary Roberts blew past Sabres defenseman James Patrick and got in alone on Hasek. As Roberts zoomed in on the Dominator, Hasek went to his knees and Roberts shot it over his shoulder into the wide open net.

"It bothered me," lamented Hasek. "I could have made the save. I protected too much of the low part of the net and he went up high. I really believe I could have made the save."

The Toronto Maple Leafs set the tone early as Gary Roberts flips a shot over Dominik Hasek's shoulder to open the scoring 3 ˝ minutes into the first period. From then on, Hasek shut down the Leafs and the Sabres beat Toronto 2-1

"It was a tough bounce off Patrick,"Ruff said about Roberts opening goal. "You let a guy all alone for the first opportunity of the game and it ends up going in. I don't think you can fault him on anything else during the game. He made some key saves early in the third that kept everything alive for us."

The Leafs dominated the early part of the game, controlling the ice and outshot Buffalo 5-3. But Toronto, who leads the league in penalties, put the brakes on any momentum and gave it to Buffalo. By taking two straight penalties, the Leafs put themselves into a hole they never were able to crawl out of.

There was a Halloween spirit in the Arena, and the Sabres adhered to that spirit by scoring at exactly the 13 minute mark. Miroslav Satan got the puck over to Stu Barnes, who was to the right side of Healy. There were bodies blocking any possible chance of Barnes passing off to a wide open Chris Gratton on the other side of Healy. For some reason, Barnes decided to give it a go and pass anyway. The puck slid through the crease, deflected off Toronto defenseman's Dave Manson's sake and veered right to Gratton. Gratton slammed it home and the game was dead-even at one.

"He made a great play," lauded Gratton. "Whether he meant to do it or not, he still got the puck out front. It happened to bounce on my stick. Fortunately it went in.

"I thought we were moving the puck around really well on that power play. I tried to hang out in front of the net as long as I could. It was nice it went in."

From that point on until Rasmussen stole the show, it was up to Hasek to shut down the potent Leafs offense. That he did and looked like his former self doing so. Hasek had to be especially sharp in the third period when Toronto went gun-ho in an attempt to regain the lead. Tie Domi crashed into Hasek as he attempted to finish off a play, sending the Buffalo netminder to the ice and leaving many fans fearing that Hasek was injured. Rob Ray came to Hasek's defense, going after Domi, but the refs intervened. After that, Hasek, who made 19 saves on the night, was a stone wall that couldn't be penetrated.

"We knew they were going to come out hard in the third period. They had a couple of good chances," said Rasmussen. "That's where Dom came up huge for us. Dom made some really big saves and we gained some momentum from that."

"I think we went out and played great defensively the first two periods," maintained Rasmussen. "We hold that team to 5 shots - 5 shots in the first period and 5 shots in the second - we're playing our type of game."

Sabres Talk

Rasmussen has really kicked up his game a couple notches this past week. The Sabres were hoping for big things from him when they selected him in the first round in 1996. Finally, the big kid may be coming into his own.

Leafs goalie Glenn Healy dives for the puck to cover up as the Sabres Doug Gilmour is kept in check by Toronto defenseman Dmitry Yushkevich.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

"I think a lot of it has to do with confidence," explained Rasmussen. "I'm feeling much more calm on the ice. I think the game is slowing down for me. Everybody says you get into a zone where you can see where you can see things differently. I think offensively, I'm seeing things a little more clearly now. I'm not rushing with the puck. I think a lot of that comes when he (Ruff) keeps telling us to hang onto the puck and actually make them make you make a mistake. So I think that's helping me a lot."

"He's doing a lot of things well," complimented Ruff. "He's really skating as well as I've seen him skate. That's the key to creating opportunities. You look at the goal the other night, he made a real good move, he just left everybody in the dust after that. There wasn't anybody who was going to catch him."

About the upcoming game in Chicago, Rasmussen knows the Sabres have to buckle down and play better on the road.

"In any given night in the NHL you can get beat," Rasmussen analyzed the upcoming game in Chicago. "There's so much talent in the league. Teams come to play so hard against you that you never know what's going to happen. We're going to have to start winning on the road if we are going to make any ground up. We can play 40-0 at home and be 0-40 on the road, it doesn't help us. We've got to go out and start establishing ourselves as a road team."

"We're doing similar things to what we did when we were in funks the last couple of years," said Leafs coach Pat Quinn. "We're turning the puck over and playing not very smart. When we turn it over, we're forced to try and get it back and that's never been our strength. If you think that's different than in the past it's not."

For the fifth straight game, the Sabres were facing a backup goalie. The Sabres wouldn't mind if this trend keeps up. Curtis Joseph, who has won his last three games, was given the night off as Glenn Healy was thrown to the wolves.

"It's a tough building for us to win in," admitted Healy. "We have not played well in this building in a number of different starts. I don't know what it is, we will have to come in a week early or something. It was not a good effort, I don't think."

"When we'd turn it over, they've some real speedy forwards and that creates real havoc for our defense. By not playing all 200 feet of the ice and only playing 150 feet of it, we really didn't get our offense going."

"It's difficult with Dominik Hasek. He is such a good goaltender," continued Healy. "It's like a numbers thing -- you've got to get a lot of shots before you are going to get a couple by him."

Hasek added his two cents.

"The first two periods, for me, were almost boring," Hasek contended. "They didn't have many chances. They had only 10 shots. I had to keep up my concentration because there weren't many difficult shots in the first two periods. I thought we had more desire to win the game. That's why we won."


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