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Sabres Central

Sabres shutdown Crunch & Co.
By Rick Anderson
December 2, 2001

Martin Biron sprawls in front of the crease to as Islanders' Mariusz Czerkawski crashes the net in a flurry around the Sabres goal during third period action.
[AP Photo/Ed Betz]

It was billed as "The Revenge of Captain Crunch." Michael Peca, known by Buffalo Sabres fans as Captain Crunch after all those years he terrorized opponents with his ferocious hits, now had his first chance to extract some revenge on the team that denied him a whole year's service in the National Hockey League. Peca must have had this date circled on his calendar as soon as the NHL schedule was released, his first meeting with his former team. As it turned out, Peca wasn't much of a factor at all in the New York Islanders 4-2 loss to the Sabres.

The Sabres may have had images Peca's famous bone-crushing checks on their minds when they first stepped out on the ice, but by the time the game ended, Peca's stats were a big fat zero. Not only didn't he rattle any Sabre trees, but he didn't even register a shot on Sabres goalie Martin Biron. In fact, he left the ice -1 for the night.

"It was one of those things where you try so hard to bottle things up that it's hard to get it out of you when you want it," reflected Peca.

With their impressive win against the team who came in as the top team in the Eastern Conference, the Sabres now have notched big wins against 3 of the NHL's top teams in a week and a half. Buffalo beat the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Calgary Flames and appear to play up to the level of competition just as they play down to the level of the weaker teams.

The Islanders started the game as if they were going to blow the Sabres out. New York took a commanding 2-0 lead on goals by Juraj Kolnik and Kenny Jonsson and it appeared as if the Sabres were down and out.

Huge comeback

Near the end of the first period, the Sabres began to stage their impressive comeback. J.P. Dumont put a shot on Isles goalie Chris Osgood and Osgood made a weak clear which Stu Barnes grabbed and he backhanded a shot over the sprawled goalie. The Sabres captain's goal came at 18:30 of the period. That goal completely changed the momentum of the game.

"I just happened to be at the right place at the right time," admitted Barnes. "It wasn't much of a shot. But after that, the guys worked really hard in the second period and getting that short-handed goal didn't hurt either."

Tim Connolly, one of the two players the Sabres received in their summer trade of Peca, cited that as the turning point of the game.

"It gave us a lot of momentum and it took away theirs," Connolly said.

The two players exchanged this summer in a blockbuster trade between the Sabres and Islanders, Michael Peca and Tim Connolly, dig after the puck in first period action in a game where the Sabres beat the Isles 4-2.
[AP Photo/Ed Betz]

Twenty seconds after Barnes goal, the Isles got a huge break when the Sabres were hit with two penalties. Miroslav Satan was given a hooking penalty and right at the horn to end the period, Denis Hamel got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The Sabres opened the second stanza two men short and the Islanders could have taken at least a two goal advantage again. However, things just didn't transpire the way New York fans would have liked.

Satan finished up his penalty, he retrieved the puck near center ice and got a pass over to Barnes, who returned the favor with an excellent pass to the Sabres top sniper. Satan broke in alone on Osgood and he popped a backhander over the Isles goalie sprawling goalie to tie the game.

With a little over 2 minutes left in the second period, Slava Kozlov was able to dig the puck out of the corner and dish it out to Chris Gratton. Gratton pushed it over to J.P. Dumont and the Sabres hottest sniper as of late caught Osgood tripping over his own skates and he hit the far corner for the winning tally. After that, Osgood was replaced in the third period with Garth Snow, who didn't allow any goals while he was in the nets.

Curtis Brown got an empty net goal as the Islanders stormed around Biron late in the game with a powerplay and an extra attacker besides. Brown's goal came after the Sabres served the penalty.

Sabres shutdown Isles big guns

The Sabres not only had Peca to contend with as they came into this game. Alexei Yashin, with 15 goals and 28 points, was tied in scoring with Mark Parrish, who had 16 goals and 28 points. The Sabres put a wet blanket around the dangerous threesome and that frustrated the former Sabres captain.

"We didn't get a good start and we were fortunate to be up 2-0," admitted Peca. "Once they got started they were very suffocating. They played a typical Buffalo game and outworked us in every area They played a typical Buffalo game and outworked us in every area."

Islanders coach Peter Laviolette thought the game was going to be a barn-burner, in favor of his Isles.

"I'm disappointed in the way we played," Laviolette said. "We got absolutely destroyed. I would have thought we would have ripped the door off the hinges. I would have thought we would go out and compete extra hard for a lot of different reasons.....We got what we deserved."

Hats have to go off for the Sabres second straight road victory. The went into the nation's capital and blew the Capitals off the ice with a 5-2 win and the next game they completely dismantled the surprising Islanders. Their next road opponent is Tuesday in Carolina.

Sabres Talk

The Isles were set for a huge statement game from Peca. They were unbeaten in 7 games and were alone on top of the Eastern Conference. The Sabres ruined Peca's grudge match.

"We knew Michael would be trying extra hard," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, "and we all knew Timmy (Connolly) would be the same way. Timmy was juiced up, and at times he was overstaying his shifts trying to make something happen."

Then Ruff talked about the Sabres current streak of 4-1-1.

"We've been building some momentum the last five games," proclaimed Ruff . "I thought it was a very poorly contested first period, but in the third we played as well as we have all year."

Satan, who scored his team leading 12th goal of the season, reflected on how the Isles couldn't finish the Sabres off.

"They had a chance to maybe finish the game and score one or two goals," said Satan. "They weren't able to do that. I just jumped on the ice from the penalty box. Stu made a great pass."

Dumont, who is one back of Satan with 11 goals, is on a tear right now with 10 points in his last 6 games, scored the winner against the team that drafted him in the draft.

"They got the lead, but nobody panicked." Dumont said . "We know we're playing good hockey."

Biron has been stellar after having a 2-week funk. Biron is now 4-0 against the Islanders and he made 23 stops against them, playing a great game after allowing the first two games.

"It doesn't make you a better team if you beat all the below-.500 teams and lose to the top teams," Biron said. "You just have to get your points."

There has been an ongoing debate between Rob Ray (who was scratched against the Isles) and Peca since training camp.

"I just hope that when they pick the guy this time," Ray said during camp about the selection of a new team captain which turned out to be Barnes. "I think last time was too much of a bargaining tool to get somebody back.(hinting about the incentive the Sabres used to sign Peca when he previously held out). It was maybe, probably not given to the person who deserved it. It should be a position where the leaders are going to get it, and I just think they'll make a much better decision this time than in the past."

Barnes was given the "C" and Ray hasn't said anything negative about that. Meanwhile, Peca had a few choice words for Ray before the game.

"Sometimes in Rob's case I don't know if he says things because he means them or he says things for effect," Peca came back. "In that case I think he's trying to be supportive for Stu and at the same time maybe trying to be sarcastic. But if you want to break it down and be serious about it, maybe when I was named captain he thought a more veteran guy should be named captain. All I can say is I tried to do the best I could. If I didn't please him as a captain, I'm not going to apologize for it."

Now Peca has to wait a few months to before he can get a chance to inflict any more hits on the Sabres.

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