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In command

Sabres cruise past Maple Leafs, take 3-1 series lead

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Posted: Sunday May 30, 1999 12:07 AM

  Curtis brown (left) celebrates the Sabres' fourth goal of the second period. AP

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -- If Dominik Hasek's groin injury is bothering him, nobody can tell.

For the second straight game, the Buffalo Sabres protected their star goalie with dogged checking, and Geoff Sanderson scored twice to key a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

Sanderson's goals highlighted a four-goal second period as the Sabres sent the Maple Leafs to the brink of elimination in the Eastern Conference finals.

"We've been doing that for a while now," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We really set the tone. The key to it all was we came out skating hard. We came at them in waves."

The victory, Buffalo's seventh straight at home without a loss in the playoffs, gave the Sabres a 3-1 lead in the series, which resumes Monday night in Toronto. The Sabres are one win away from making the Stanley Cup finals for only the second time since the team entered the NHL in 1970.

Buffalo assumed command when its relentless attack forced the Toronto defense into mistake after mistake in front of beleaguered goalie Curtis Joseph.

"It's been the key to the series," Ruff said. "We've been very opportunistic and we took advantage of some careless giveaways. You've got to realize that every game there's going to be 10 or 12 mistakes. It's whether you score on them or not."

They did. Brian Holzinger began the barrage at 2:51 of the second, intercepting a bad cross-ice pass by Toronto's Steve Sullivan in the slot and beating Joseph between his pads.

If Toronto had any hopes of a comeback, the Maple Leafs probably figured they were done when Rob Ray scored at 5:04 on a nifty backhand deflection in front. It was Ray's first goal in 111 games.

Sanderson ended any doubts when he scored just 22 seconds later on the rebound of a shot by Miroslav Satan.

The Maple Leafs rebounded from 2-1 deficits to win the previous two series, against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but this time their luck may have run out.

"They beat us to every loose puck. They initiated every hit," said Mats Sundin, who scored both Toronto goals -- the first on a penalty shot -- in the third period. "Every play for the first two periods, it looked like our heads were somewhere else, like we were too tense to play."

Toronto coach Pat Quinn expects a different team to hit the ice at Air Canada Centre for Game 5.

"I know the guys in our room," Quinn said. "I know they won't not show up to play."

The Sabres gained a 1-0 lead on a short-handed goal by Dixon Ward late in the first period, then rallied in the second just like they did in their 4-2 win in Game 3.

Hasek was rarely tested despite making 31 saves. He won Game 3 after sitting out the first two games with an injured groin.

The game threatened to turn into a slugfest early when Kevyn Adams rammed Hasek at 12:53 of the first, especially when Hasek was whistled for interfering with Mike Johnson behind the Buffalo net less than two minutes later.

That gave Toronto its first good chance to score the important first goal. But with the Maple Leafs pressing the attack on the ensuing power play, the Sabres struck for their second short-handed goal in two games.

The loss was another harsh setback for Joseph, whose often spectacular goaltending during his first season with the Maple Leafs had been credited for allowing the younger players on the team to develop more quickly. He was always there to atone for their mistakes, but not on this night.

Joseph, who was relieved by Glenn Healy to start the third period, finished with 22 saves.

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Geoff Sanderson capped off a prolific second period for the Sabres.
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