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Sabres Central

Avs snowball Sabres
By Rick Anderson
December 8, 2001

Avs goaltender David Aebischer stops Vaclav Varada cold when the Sabres winger had a glorious chance to score a shorthanded goal in the third period.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

This was to be the litmus test for the Buffalo Sabres. After coming home from a hugely successful 3-game road trip, the Sabres were now going up against the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche. The Sabres failed the test miserably as the Avalanche completely buried Buffalo 4-1.

The Avs spotted the Sabres the first goal and then turned in such a dominating performance that it raised a lot of questions about how ready the Sabres are against the powerful teams from the Western Conference. They already have suffered an embarrassing loss to the Detroit Red Wings and the game Buffalo played Friday night against the Stanley Cup champions proved once again that the Sabres have a long way to go before they can compete with the big boys.

The Sabres actually played an impressive first period against the Avs, taking an early 1-0 lead when J.P. Dumont continued his torrid scoring streak. Colorado continued the trend Buffalo's opponents have shown recently by starting their backup and benching future Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy in favor of David Aebischer. Aebischer did Roy proud by making 26 saves and he stonewalled the Sabres time and again.

With a lot of fans just getting into their seats, the Sabres quickly gave the Avs a wakeup notice as Miroslav Satan came in on Aebischer with Dumont. Satan's pass was on the mark and Dumont scored his 14th goal of the season by putting a backhand shot past the backup goalie at the 4:24 mark. This extended Dumont's streak to eight straight games with a point.

After Dumont's goal, Aebischer would completely shut the door on the Sabres. They had plenty of chances to add to that one goal lead (or get back into the game), but Aebischer was there time after time making electrifying saves. Maxim Afinogenov had two magnificent opportunities to score on Aebischer twice when he got through the defense an in alone on the Avalanche backup. Aebischer made two spectacular saves on the flashy Russian skater. He also made some outstanding saves on Chris Gratton, Satan, Stu Barnes, Erik Rasmussen and Dumont. None of the Sabres sharpshooters could get the rubber past the amazin' Aebischer.

"He's a confident goalie," lauded Avs superstar Joe Sakic. "Last year he played well when (Roy) was hurt. He came in against some big teams and got us some wins."

Meanwhile, Aebischer counterpart, Martin Biron, had a less than stellar game. Biron was called upon to stop 26 shots. He could only block 22 of them and played one of his poorer games in weeks. At least two of the Avs goals could have been stopped if Biron had been sharper in the nets.

Biron is ready to forget this game and concentrate on Saturday night's contest in Boston.

"When you're playing well, you can lose a game, but you don't want to lose two in a row," said Biron. "Hopefully we can do good and say that we're road warriors. But it would have felt really, really good to come back here and get a big win. It would have been a big boost."

Buried alive!

While the Sabres were missing their golden opportunities, the Avs were picking away at the Sabres. Colorado outshot the Sabres 10-5 in the first period and Biron did make several good stops until the Avs finally tied the game on kind of a fluky goal. At the 12:46 mark of the opening period, Joe Sakic attempted a pass from near the right faceoff circle and it deflected off Barnes skate and past a dumbfounded Biron.

Sabres goalie Martin Biron blocks a shot with his goalie stick by Avalanche left winger Ville Nieminen in first period action. The Avs would beat the Sabres 4-1.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

The score would remain tied 1-1 through the remainder of the first and most of the second stanza. Buffalo actually was able to contain the hefty Avalanche firepower until another redirected puck got past the bewildered Sabres goaltender. Rob Blake took a shot from the point that Dan Hinote deflected past Biron giving the Avs the lead for good. Hinote's goal came at the 17:51 mark of the middle stanza and the Avs would never look back. The Sabres would never be able to dig out of the snowstorm that besieged them.

Sakic was simply amazed by Hinote's tip shot.

"(It was) unbelievable,"Sakic said."It is an art. That's one thing I couldn't do."

"If you can change it (the puck's direction) enough to where the goalie can't move toward it, if it's going that fast, it's going to be a goal," explained Hinote.

In the final period, the Avs got two powerplay goals from Steve Reinprecht and Hinote. Reinprecht got his goal on a rebound of a shot taken by Radim Vrbata. Biron failed to clear it and it landed on Reinprecht's stick, who banged it home for the insurance goal.

With the Sabres attempting to get Biron out in favor of the extra attacker in the last minute of the game, the Sabres were handed another penalty and the Avs wanted to give Buffalo something to remember them by. Hinote notched his second of the game when he stuffed one past Biron with only a few ticks left on the clock.

The Sabres will use this game as a measuring stick to see how far they have to go. As they found out the hard way, the distance gapping the Avs and the Sabres is enormous.

Sabres Talk

The Avs left Buffalo full of good cheer. Colorado coach Bob Hartley talked about the Avs' early season woes and how they are now getting back on track.

"We had the same goaltending, the same defense, and the same commitment, but no confidence scoring goals," Hartley said. "Now the goals are coming. With the goaltending we got tonight and since the start of the year, we're a tough team to beat."

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff gave the Avs their due.

"They have players who capitalize on their chances," commented Ruff. "We didn't capitalize on ours. That was the difference."

"In the second period we had five or six real good opportunities to put them away, and we didn't," Ruff continued. "I thought the kid (Aebischer) made a lot of great saves."

"They had some players capitalize on chances. We didn't. That was the difference. We knew we were in for a heck of a game. It was sitting there for us, and we didn't take advantage of it."

Rasmussen, who was on a hot streak recently, got blanked for the first time in 3 games.

"We had some point-blank chances that, over the last five games, have been going in the net," explained Rasmussen. "Tonight, he made some big saves."

Aebischer was impressed on how the Sabres came out storming.

"The first five minutes, all the momentum was on Buffalo's side,"said Aebischer.

"Getting a 1-0 lead against them was a big confidence builder,"said Gratton. "But they're a veteran team and a confident team. They know when to pick it up and regroup. They came back strong."

Gratton, who vented some frustration this week about being delegated to the fourth line, had his chances, but like the rest of the Sabres, couldn't bury them. He knows that Saturday night's game in Boston is a big one.

"You want a chance to redeem yourself and get back in the win column, especially on the road," said Gratton. "We're getting a lot of confidence built up on the road, and we want to continue that."


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