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Losing luster

Sabres take shine off Stars, even series at two apiece

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Posted: Wednesday June 16, 1999 01:56 AM

  Buffalo's Geoff Sanderson got the home crowd in the game by sliding the puck around Ed Belfour in the first period. AP

BUFFALO, N.Y. (CNN/SI) -- Dominik Hasek had these words of wisdom for his Buffalo Sabres teammates: Quit letting the Dallas Stars take the Stanley Cup finals to us, and let's take it to them.

Apparently, the Sabres listened and did something about it.

Dixon Ward and Geoff Sanderson scored off giveaways that left Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock shaking his head in disbelief, and the Sabres tied the tough series with a 2-1 victory in Game 4 on Tuesday night.

It was essentially a must-win game for Buffalo, as only one team in 60 years has rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win the Stanley Cup, and it sends the series back to Dallas for Game 5 Thursday tied 2-2.

Two of the final three games, if necessary, will be in Dallas, including Game 7.

"This was a must win for us," Ward said. "If we don't win this, you could just take us off the burner 'cause we're done."

Hasek also knew there was little room for a lack of confidence in a series in which only 17 goals have been scored -- nine by Dallas, eight by Buffalo. It is the lowest-scoring Stanley Cup finals in 30 years. Montreal outscored St. Louis 12-3 in sweeping the 1969 finals.

"Emotion and passion won us the hockey game," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We let it hang out. I thought by the second period, we really started to dictate the play."

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CNN/SI's John Giannone talks to Game 4 hero Geoff Sanderson
Buffalo's Geoff Sanderson was pointless coming into Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals, but he scored a pivotal goal that helped the Buffalo Sabres even the series with Dallas.

Giannone: Geoff, describe your goal. It was very similar to Dixon Ward's in that it was a rare giveaway by the Dallas defense.

Sanderson: Yeah, it looked like a mishandle by [Stars defenseman Shawn] Chambers on the wall. I think the puck might have caught up in some snow and bounced off a little differently than he expected. Basically, I just raced down the left wall and didn't see their 'D' coming into the picture. So I just faked a slapshot and pulled it to my backhand. That kind of froze [Dallas goaltender Eddie] Belfour and he couldn't get over quick enough.

Giannone: It seems as though [Sabres coach] Lindy Ruff's mantra coming into this game was that you guys needed to be the harder-working team. At the end of the game, he wants to say that you guys worked harder. Did that happen today?

Sanderson: I think everyone can look at themselves in the mirror after this one. We treated it like a Game 7 situation. We know the percentages when you're down 3-1, and we didn't want to put ourselves in that position. We knew that tonight was a must-win game.

Giannone: In the other locker room after the game, the Dallas players were talking about the frustration they felt in not putting a stranglehold on this series. Now that it's 2-2 going back to Dallas, what are your emotions?

Sanderson: Well, we're trying to stay even keeled. We got a little too excited after Game 1 and had a little bit of a letdown coming home. So we're trying to keep our emotions in check and not get too excited because we know it's still going to be a long series. We still have a lot of work to do going into Dallas.


Of Hasek's challenge to his teammates to be more aggressive because he was there to back them up, Ruff said: "He said it all, really. What he said was, 'Bring it on.' Emotionally, he was the leader of the team for us and he set the tone with his statements."

With Dallas sharpshooter Brett Hull out with a groin injury, the Stars didn't have many good scoring chances on Hasek despite outshooting Buffalo 31-18.

More importantly, the Stars lacked the suffocating, error-free defense that limited Buffalo to 12 shots in a 2-1 victory in Game 3.

Ward scored the game-winner at 7:37 of the second period off 38-year-old defenseman Craig Ludwig's turnover in the Dallas end, just as Sanderson put Buffalo ahead 1-0 on a first-period breakaway created by a similar giveaway.

Defenseman Craig Ludwig was trying to chip the puck up ice, but Ward intercepted and snapped a shot from the slot before goaltender Ed Belfour could react.

"The puck was just dumped out of their zone," Ludwig said. "I was just trying to throw it over to my partner Shawn [Chambers], and it bounced right off the top of my stick. I think it was Ward's stick, and he just shot it over top of me. I screened Eddie and he didn't have a chance."

Said Hitchcock: "We were really playing well at that time. We thought it was coming, we could sense it was coming for us. We had four good shifts in a row, and we gave it up easily and that took the wind out of our sails."

In a series that has seen a one-goal differential or a tie score for all but 26 seconds, two mistakes were too many for Dallas, especially before an electrified Marine Midland Arena crowd of 18,595 that clearly wasn't ready to watch the Sabres for the last time this season.

"We had a lot of chances. We didn't play that badly but we've got to play better," Dallas defenseman Derian Hatcher said. "It's all the little stuff, that's what it comes down to."

Hasek stopped 30 of 31 shots, but the Stars got few rebound attempts and had little success in creating traffic in front of the net to distract him.

"They held us up really well," Hitchcock said. "We couldn't maintain our territorial play. We didn't do much in front of the net. I don't think Hasek was the big factor. He was good, he made some big saves, but so did Eddie."

Stopping the shots
Former teammates Hasek, Belfour performed well
Goalies Shots Saves Record

Belfour played perhaps his best game of the series, making several spectacular saves during a second-period sequence in which slumping Buffalo star Miroslav Satan missed twice from short range.

"No question about it, I thought the second period was our best of the series," Ward said. "I think we just got our energy going. We started throwing everything at them and we had our defensemen really involved."

The Sabres scored first for the third time in the series, taking advantage of the first Dallas giveaway. Sanderson beat Chambers to the puck along the right wind boards and took off up ice as the pro-Buffalo crowd rose in unison with his every stride. Sanderson skated in 1-on-1 on Belfour, drew him off balance with a fake, then backhanded the puck into the net at 8:09 of the first for his fourth playoff goal and first in five games.

"We kidded him when he came off that he always shoots right away," Ruff said. "I said to him, 'You finally listened.' But he said, 'The puck wasn't in position to shoot right away.'"

The Sabres gave back the lead barely two minutes later.

With Wayne Primeau off for charging, Mike Modano ran down the puck behind the net and threaded it to Jere Lehtinen in the slot. As Lehtinen's momentum nearly took him off his skates, he one-timed a shot from the right hash mark through two defenders and Hasek at 10:14.

Buffalo had killed off 17 consecutive penalties before Lehtinen scored his ninth of these playoffs. Lehtinen had four career playoff goals until this season.

Ruff made several strategic changes, and all appeared to be beneficial.

He shortened shifts to prevent his skaters from wearing down against Dallas' big defensemen and moved Joe Juneau to Satan's line to add more speed.

"We didn't worry much about the matchups," Ruff said. "We just wanted to make sure we kept the shifts short."

Related information
SI's Pierre McGuire: Sabres finally meeting their match
Dallas' Hitchcock muses about starry ride to success
Day at a Glance: Buffalo reshuffles
Class time: Sabres look for Game 4 rebound
Dixon Ward's game-winning goal gave the Sabres the win they needed.
  • Start(767 K .MOV)
Both goalies made some impressive and important saves in Game 4. (937 K)
Both teams made a statement by scoring goals in the first period. (1.14 M)
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff says his team gave their all. (110 K)
Buffalo's Geoff Sanderson describes his exciting first-period goal. (133 K)
Sanderson says the Sabres can be proud of how they played in Game 4. (98 K)
Sanderson says the Sabres still have some work to do. (120 K)
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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