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Sabres Central

Sabres survive Hab Attack
By Rick Anderson
November 4, 2000

Can anyone please explain what took place Friday night in the HSBC Arena? Was that a hockey game or some weird variation that leaves fans wondering what they just saw?

Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek loses his stick as he is driven down by the Habs Arron Asham in the first period in a game in which the Sabres beat the Canadiens 5-4. Hasek would lose his stick once more in the third period and the refs would make another controversial ruling that he "threw his stick" thus resulting in a penalty shot. Hasek would stop that shot and go on to win.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

In what the NHL calls a highly polished product, the game between the Buffalo Sabres and Montreal Canadiens left a whole lot to be desired. Yes, the Sabres held on to win the game 5-4, but...... People actually paid big bucks to witness this kind of travesty on ice?

Circus on ice

This game had everything. In the three ring circus Friday night, there were three different games being played. There was a bogus penalty shot awarded to the Montreal Canadiens late in the third period. In the first period, the Sabres faced their seventh straight backup goalie, pummeled him with 3 goals to chase him from the nets, and then had a terrible time scoring against his rookie replacement. We can't forget how linesman Ray Scapinello was given a free seat in the Sabres bench when he was knocked over the boards by a Montreal player.

Actually, how can fans complain about this one? They paid the price for one game and saw three. The Sabres dominated in the first period, taking a 3-0 lead. The Canadiens had complete control of the second game, which lasted until 8 minutes into the third period when the Sabres finally answered 3 straight Canadien goals. The Grand Finale was probably the most interesting game as it featured the phantom penalty shot and the Sabres holding onto dear life to remain unbeaten at home.

Power Surge

The Sabres came out for the first period loaded for bear. They chased Jose Theodore to the bench after 13 minutes by scoring 3 goals on the Habs backup goalie. Vladimir Tsyplakov opened the scoring just 36 seconds into the game when he battled in front of the net and slammed it past Theodore. Then Alexei Zhitnik, playing his second game after coming back from a suspension, netted his second of the season at the 11:49 mark on a slap shot. Less than two minutes later, "The Tree," Dimitri Kalinin, scored his first of the season. The Sabres had 5 shots on Theodore and 3 goals. Time for Montreal coach Alain Vigneault to make a goalie change. In came rookie netminder Mathieu Garon and the momentum swung in the Habs direction.

Habs Storm Back

It was like night and day! Bring in a rookie goalie and just his presence in the crease seemed to give the Habs new life. Garon was called upon to make only 10 saves the rest of the way. That's over two periods and the Buffalo skaters were only able to muster ten on the untried rookie.

The Habs, meanwhile, got plenty of rubber on Dominik Hasek. The Dominator had to face 28 shots in the final two periods, 35 overall. Suddenly his defense collapsed and he had to face the onslaught of the buzzing Hab attack. Martin Rucinsky and Karl Dykhuis got the Canadiens back into the game with goals in the second period. The Canadiens scored their third unanswered goal when Craig Darby took a blast that beat Hasek and suddenly the game was tied 3-3.

The Habs Brian Savage and Buffalo's Richard Smehlik battle for the puck in the first period.
[Reuters Photo/Joe Traver]

"It was like two games," said Garon. "The first part we lost 3-0 and the second part we won 3-2."

Satan's Breakaway Dance

Just when all the 17,666 fans who attended the game felt the Canadiens would continue their momentum and sweep the Sabres under the rug, Miroslav Satan took a clue from the last 3 digits of the attendance count and performed his magic.

Satan saw the golden egg lying there in his own zone with nothing but daylight in front of him. Picking up the puck 20 feet in front of Hasek, the Sabres' Dark Angel flew up the ice like a demon and had Garon praying for mercy. Mephistopheles on skates tormented Garon to his brand of Hades when he slipped the puck between his legs to put the Sabres in front once again.

"I expected when the puck came out, there was going to be a defenseman," Satan remarked. "Then I saw there was nobody there and it was wide open and it was great."

"I was kind of elated when I saw nobody in front of me," Satan continued. "You wonder what he's (Garon) going to give you. First I was going to make a move around him. He's a right-handed goalie and I couldn't do my move, that's why I had to do something else. Then I saw after my first move he was going to be frozen and the five hole was going to be open so I flipped it through."

Pseudo Penalty Shot

Leave it to a Buffalo sports team to get another bogus call ruled against them. There were No Goal Parts I & II, the "Home Run Throwback," and now the Pseudo Penalty Shot.

Everyone was scratching their heads when suddenly referees Blaine (Black) Angus and Dan Marouelli awarded the Habs with a penalty shot. Even the media was left in the dark until after the game.

The official NHL statement after the game was that Hasek apparently "threw his stick" in a scramble around the crease.

"First I was upset when he (the referee) told me,"said the bewildered Hasek about the ambiguous call. "I said "What? Who?' I didn't throw the stick. I said, `What me?'

Being involved in all too many ridiculous NHL calls, Hasek knew that he could not let this one throw him off his game. He had to quickly regain his composure and concentrate on the man chosen by Vigneault to take the penalty shot - Dainius Zubrus.

"I tried to focus on Zubrus," he added. "I know he is a good shooter."

Zubrus wheeled in to Hasek's right, pumped like he was going to shoot and then skated to the Dominator's left in an attempt to backhand the puck past the sprawling goalie. Hasek, however, was able to poke check the puck before Zubrus could even get off the shot to the delight of the Sabres fans.

"He was coming too slow, I expected him to shoot," said Hasek. "His move wasn't the best, so I made the pokecheck and I made a pretty easy save."

." Although the Sabres escaped the latest in the NHL's attempt to hinder them with a spurious ruling, it left Lindy Ruff fuming after the game.

"I really believe if the referees looked at it again (the replay) ... I mean he made a mistake," retorted Ruff . "I didn't see it at the time, I just watched it now. He poked-checked Brunet coming through and knocked the stick out of his hand with his feet. He said he threw his stick at the guy coming in on the break, but that isn't what happened."

Hasek's save has to be the play of the game as it instilled new life in the Sabres and they took the momentum from the Habs and used it to power their way to their fifth victory at home and remain undefeated at HSBC Arena (5-0-1).

"I think the whole bench lifted up," remarked Chris Gratton, who would score the game winner a few minutes later. "It was a crucial play in the hockey game. When your goaltender can make big saves like that it helps everybody out. It got the fans back into the game and it got the guys on the bench positive again."

Gratton's Big Gun

Doug Flutie and Rob Johnson should take lessons from Chris Gratton on how to fire shots! While the dueling Buffalo Bills quarterbacks are firing barbs at each other in the media, Gratton is firing rocket pucks at NHL goalies.

Gratton got his fourth goal of the season when he rifled off a bullet that Garon probably couldn't see because of the velocity the puck achieved. Doug Gilmour tied former Sabre Dale Hawerchuk for the 13th slot in the all-time NHL career points list when he got his 891 point on Gratton's goal. Gilmour fed Maxim Afinogenov, who made a perfect pass to Gratton parked all alone in the right faceoff circle. As soon as the puck reached Gratton's stick, the puck was shot like a rocket out of a cannon and Garon was blinded by the light.

"The first five games, I was shooting and it seemed the net was as small as a mousehole," said Gratton. "You get a couple of bounces and our line gets confidence."

Never say "Die" Habs

Down 5-3, the Canadiens kept battling back. Suffering from a multitude of injuries just like last year, the resilient Habs have that attitude that they can overcome all odds. Last season, their injury list seemed more like a war casualty list, but they still battled back from being all but out of the playoffs in January to just missing them at season's end. Friday night, down by two goals was not that big an obstacle.

Dykhaus scored his second goal of the night at the 18:12 mark to put the Sabres fans in a state of consternation. Garon went to the bench when the Canadiens got control of the puck after Dykhaus' goal and put some decent pressure on Hasek. But the Sabres' D finally was able to get the puck out of their zone and the Sabres held on to remain undefeated at home.

Sabres Talk

The Sabres may be on the right track this season. The past two years, Buffalo has lost some games they deserved to win. This year, the opposite may be happening.

"That was a game that last year we would have found a way to lose," said Ruff after the game. "We found enough offense to win the hockey game. But there were very few bright spots in that game."

Dainius Zubris falls into Sabre Goalie Dominik Hasek in the first period after Miroslav Satan (18) hooks him.
[Reuters Photo/Joe Traver]

"I think what happened was it was too easy, too quick for us," Ruff continued. "The only reason we got a lead is their goaltending wasn't very good at the start of the game. I thought from start to finish they basically outplayed us. Tonight we were flat. We didn't skate very well at all."

"Offensively we can score some goals. We don't need a lot of chances, we've got some guys who can score some goals that can get us back in hockey games."

Even though Ruff saw some good signs again with the offense, he must be fretting what he sees on defense.

"Mentally, we made some big mistakes, and part of that was discipline. We took some foolish penalties. There's a couple you have to shrug your shoulders at. There's the one at the end of the game when Zhitnik breaks the stick, broke the blade off his stick and it's laying there. They're yelling at him to move it and Europeans never have played baseball before - they just can't push it up the ice, they have to kind of palm it up there."

The Sabres, who were coming off a 6-day layoff, started off strongly, but then tried to rest on their laurels the rest of the way.

"We were probably too satisfied after leading 3-0," said Satan. "Giving up a 3-0 lead isn't something that should happen in the NHL. We did that and had to find another way to win the game."

Brian Savage was shaking his head after Hasek made some brilliant stops on several of his shots.

"The first period, they definitely dominated and got key goals," admitted Savage. "We knew Hasek was sort of struggling with the puck tonight. Once we got the first one, it sort of lifted us up. Going into the third, we had a chance at it, but that 4-on-4 goal really hurt us."

Montreal coach Alain Vigneault was happy about the Habs comeback, but still unsatisfied with the end result.

"We battled extremely well to come back in the game," Vigneault said. "It's the same story the last four or five games. We outplay the opposition but the results aren't on our side."

"It's always challenging against a team like Buffalo with a goaltender like that," Vigneault maintained. "But, I thought we battled extremely well to come back in that game. Anytime you score four goals on Hasek, you must have done something well offensively."

See video of Dominik Hasek stopping penalty shot...

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