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Sabres Central

The shedding of the Gorilla
By Rick Anderson
January 13, 2002

Martin Biron stretches out to smother the puck in a flurry of action in front of the Buffalo crease in first period action against the New Jersey Devils. Biron played a stellar game in holding the Devils to just one goal.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

It was Redemption Night in Buffalo. Three of the Sabres who have had a gorilla on their backs shed it with vengeance Saturday night against the New Jersey Devils. The Sabres held on to beat the Devils 2-1. Miroslav Satan, Chris Gratton and Martin Biron all had stand out games and kicked the 200-pound gorillas right into the stands.

The Sabres won 3 out of 4 games this past week, so in all it was a very successful week. Now they have to go out on a western swing that will take them through Anaheim, Los Angeles, Phoenix before ending the tour stop at Colorado, the home of the Stanley Cup Champion Avalanche.

Satan thwarts the Devils

Satan hadn't scored in 14 games and it appeared as if he would never shed his gorilla skin. The Sabres were shorthanded late in the first period when suddenly Satan stole the puck at center ice and skated in on Martin Brodeur. With Alexei Zhitnik off for 2 Minutes for tripping Christian Berglund, the Sabres were trying to hold the Devils off the board for the rest of the period. Jay McKee freed up Satan with a pass over center ice and the Sabres fought off Brian Rafalski and closed in on Brodeur. Satan's original shot was blocked by the Devils star goalie, but the rebound came right out to Satan, who squeezed it between Brodeur's pad and post. There were only 20 seconds left on the clock for the first period when Satan tallied. It was definitely a momentum boost for the Sabres.

For Satan, he was about to break his longest scoreless streak since he first came into the NHL seven years ago.

"I had to make sure the monkey on my back was dead," articulated Satan, who waited to see if the goal was going to be somehow disallowed before going into a rollathon celebration . "I tried to give it a little crush."

Gratton serves up hot potato

Miroslav Satan finally gets the monkey off his back, scoring his first goal in 14 games. Satan went in on a breakaway and scored a shorthanded goal on Devils goalie Martin Brodeur late in the first period.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

The Sabres had been completely shut down in the second stanza. Going into the last minute of play, they had put ZERO shots on Brodeur, not one, zilch, nada. Skating along the right boards with 40 seconds left in the period, Gratton decided to try to get at least one on net before the horn sounded to end the period. He wound up and took a wicked shot that somehow sailed over Brodeur's left shoulder, to the bedevilment of the Devils goalie. Gratton had served up a hot potato that Brodeur couldn't handle. Speak about relief for finally scoring a goal, Gratton felt as if 20 gorillas suddenly fell off his strong shoulders.

"His (Satan's) slump was a mini-slump," put in Gratton, who hadn't scored in 28 games. "Mine was a major one. When you see Miro score, it's a confidence builder for him, and it makes you bear down a little more as well. You want the team to do well first. But when guys do go on slumps it's nice to see a bounce go their way. It's always great to see guys bust out of slumps and see smiles go back on faces."

Gratton, who has been involved in a flurry of trade rumors for most of the season, would like nothing better than to stay with the Sabres and help them make the playoffs.

"Lindy's really stuck through me through this tough time here," admitted Gratton. "There's a great bunch of guys here. I haven't contributed as much offensively, and it's hurt the team. We need four lines going, and when a guy's in a big slump like that it hurts. But the guys have been confidence in me. Hopefully, I can go the other way and give some back."

Fighting off the zebras

The Sabres not only had the bigger, meaner Devils to fight off in this game, but the zebras were doing their usual number on them. Buffalo had scored early in the game, but once again a quick whistle wiped out a legitimate goal by Tim Connolly.

For the second time in three games a referee blew a call because he blew his whistle too soon, denying Buffalo a first-period goal. Satan got robbed Tuesday. It was Tim Connolly on Saturday, who retrieved the puck after it came loose in a scrum around the net. The ref claimed he lost sight of the puck. The same happened against Vancouver on Tuesday. Thursday was that much disputed "no goal" that the video judges ruled was hit by a high stick by Denis Hamel.

Then the Sabres were called for some highly questionable penalties, when a slight tug on a sleeve would result in a hooking penalty. Meanwhile, the Devils were able to get away with flagrant infractions without so much as a whistle, except for irate Sabres fans. The biggest blow to the Sabres momentum came with the second period three quarters over. Taylor Pyatt was given a double minor, 4 minutes, for high sticking Devils captain Scott Stevens. The Sabres did a commendable job in killing off most of the penalty, but Scott Niedemayer put a shot on goal that was tipped past Biron by Bruce Gardiner with just under two minutes remaining on the clock.

Gratton then answered that with his hot potato and it turned into the game-winner.

"Maybe it caught Brodeur off guard a little, but hey, I'll take it," admitted Gratton about the surprise goal.

The team's captain, Stu Barnes was overjoyed with the crucial goal.

"When Gratts scored, the whole bench jumped up," Barnes said.

Marty holds down the fort

Biron, entering into this game, had been having problems keeping the opponent off the scoreboard in the first minute of the game. He had to make several stops early, but when he finally got into his comfort zone, he was stellar in the nets. During the final minute and a half of the game, he had to endure intense heat from the Devils. The Devils game plan was to push Biron around. With the refs whistles in their back pockets, the Devils proceeded to pummel Biron, knocking the net off the moorings twice. Once it cost them. The Devils scored on Biron, but the net had been clearly lifted off the moorings a full two seconds before the puck crossed the goal line.

Biron had to be extra sharp against the aggressive Devils. In all, he made 27 saves compared to Brodeur's 18. The battle of the Martins clearly was won by the younger one.

"If you want to look at the reason we won, I thought our goaltender made those key saves for us," lauded Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "He made the right saves at the right time."

"I'm doing the same things now," put in Biron. "I knew we were going to get our bounces, things would start clicking. If I shoot it around the boards, instead of hitting the glass and bouncing three feet to the right, it will bounce right where it needs to be, and that's what it's been doing."

Sabres Week in Review

The Sabres got 6 of a possible 8 points this week. Beating the Minnesota Wild Sunday and the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday started Buffalo on a mini-roll, that was curtailed when the Penguins shutdown the Sabres 2-0. Buffalo has had trouble with Pittsburgh since Matthew Barnaby was traded to the Pens a few years ago. Even with Barnaby gone, Buffalo has fits when they face the Penguins. One would think that Barnes would fire up his teammates to beat his former team. With Pittsburgh winning Thursday, it kept them on the same pace as the Sabres in the playoff race.

The Sabres have to at least split the 4 game western swing. If they don't, then their playoff hopes will be much worse than they are now.

At least the Sabres head west on a good note. Now if they can keep it up.

"You go on the road feeling good about your team," Ruff said. "It's a four-point gap with New Jersey. Now we have to build off that."

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