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Penguins Hedberg keeps his cool under playoff fire

Thursday, May 10, 2001

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Johan Hedberg still hasn't blinked.

Sure, he was aware of the doubts which had crept into the minds of some. How he had lost three consecutive games in the Penguins' Stanley Cup playoff series against the Buffalo Sabres. How he had given up a handful of dubious goals, some from severe angles, some of negligible velocity. How he wasn't as swaggering in challenging shooters. How he wasn't as quick to leave his crease to play the puck.

But tonight is Game 7, and Hedberg is still standing, trying to win a staredown with a living legend at the opposite end.

He will tell you it's no big deal.

"You just try to stay the same. Win or lose, everything stays the same. Never too high, never too low."

But make no mistake: If the Penguins win tonight, Hedberg surely will relish in having beaten Dominik Hasek.

Nothing personal. That is just the way Hedberg sees the game. It is him vs. the other goaltender, one-on-one.

A perfect example came in the Penguins' 3-2 victory in Game 6 Tuesday at Mellon Arena.

At 11:30 of the second period, Hasek jutted out his left toe to thwart a golden chance for Alexei Kovalev at the side of the Buffalo net. The score was 1-1 at the time, and Hedberg immediately made note of the stop.

"I see it as a challenge," he said. "I see him come up with a big save, and I'm thinking, 'Well, if I get the chance, I'm going to have to do the same thing for my team.'"

He got the chance eight seconds later.

The puck was cleared quickly out of the zone, and Miroslav Satan, the Sabres' leading scorer in these playoffs, had a breakaway for 130 feet. Satan skated toward Hedberg at full speed and dangled the puck on his stick as if he were going to simply attempt a shot. Instead, at the last instant, he turned the puck over to his backhand with one dazzling move and tried to fool Hedberg.

He didn't. Hedberg used the same toe as Hasek had at the other end and stuffed Satan.

"It felt pretty good to stop that," Hedberg said. "I didn't think he was going to try that move, so he kind of surprised me a little bit. But I still made the stop."

Hedberg finished with only 16 saves while his teammates put together their most complete game of the series.

He was on the bench for the evening's defining moment, pulled for an extra attacker when Mario Lemieux netted the tying goal with 1:18 remaining in regulation. And, even then, he had his eyes fixed on Hasek as Kovalev's initial shot from the point was deflected high into the air before landing in the Buffalo crease.

"The puck goes up, and I can see Hasek doesn't know where it is, and I'm thinking to myself, 'That's going to go in.' Then Mario puts it in, and it was such a great feeling for all of us," Hedberg said. "Hasek played an unbelievable game, and he had a lot of bounces go with him. I figured sooner or later he was going to have a bounce go against him, too."

Hasek made 30 saves and probably turned in his finest performance of this round, but it still wasn't enough to beat Hedberg.

Now, each man has a record of 3-3 in the series. Hedberg has allowed 15 goals, Hasek 13. Hedberg has stopped 90.2 percent of the shots he has faced, Hasek 90.9 percent. Each goaltender has held the other team to two goals or less three times and, in doing so, won the game each time.

And the one edge Hasek carries into the deciding game tonight -- his experience -- might not amount to much when considered he has played in only one Game 7 in his career, and that was a 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils April 29, 1994.

As for pressure on Hedberg ...

"I don't think we can come to any higher pressure point than what we just went through, for me and for all of us. We got into Game 6 facing elimination, we tie it with a minute left and go to overtime to get the win. How much more pressure than that can you have?"

Hedberg's approach for the hours leading up to faceoff will be simple.

He will keep his body fresh.

"You just need to get a little rest, but you can't be tired at this time of year. This is what you're working for. All summer, every day, when you're running in the woods and you work your tail off, you go so hard you can become sick, this is what it's for. You do everything for this."

And he will keep his mind fresh.

"It's going to be fun."

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