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Penguins Penguins Report, 5/11/01

Friday, May 11, 2001

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

LOOKING AHEAD

Game 1: Penguins vs. New Jersey Devils, 7:08 p.m. tomorrow, Continental Airlines Arena. TV, radio: ESPN; WWSW-FM (94.5), WBGG-AM (970).

PENGUINS NOTEBOOK

The Penguins scratched G Garth Snow (groin), LW Dan LaCouture, LW Steve McKenna, LW Krzysztof Oliwa, D Marc Bergevin and D Frantisek Kucera.

G Johan Hedberg ended up with 16 goals against on 182 shots, a .912 save percentage, in the series. And, of the many outstanding stops he made last night, the best might have come at 12:06 of the second period on a short-handed breakaway by Sabres C Doug Gilmour. Gilmour bolted between the hash marks, gave a shoulder fake and tried a forehand shot, but Hedberg stayed with him every step of the way and had his right pad in position to make the save. "I was a little deep in the crease there, and I thought about challenging him," Hedberg said. "But I just stayed there and waited for him to make the first move."

When D Darius Kasparaitis scored the winning goal at 13:01 of overtime, Hedberg simply dropped to his knees and looked upward. He has gone from toiling in obscurity for the IHL's Manitoba Moose just a few weeks ago to beating Sabres G Dominik Hasek in a Game 7 overtime to reach the Eastern Conference final. Is it sinking in? "I'm just going to enjoy it tonight, then get ready for the next series," Hedberg said. "I know it's pretty amazing, but maybe I'll think about that down the road. I just want for our team to keep winning right now."

Coach Ivan Hlinka -- with an assist from C Mario Lemieux -- made the tactical adjustment of the game when he juggled his top two lines immediately after Buffalo had taken a 2-1 lead 32 seconds into the third period, having RW Jaromir Jagr and RW Alexei Kovalev exchange places, Jagr going to the second unit, Kovalev to the first. The move paid dividends, as Jagr gained more skating room by being away from Buffalo's checking line. He finished with assists on the tying and winning goals. "Sometimes, you have a feeling for something," Hlinka said. "I have to say I talked to Mario about that during the third period, and I think it was a good move." "We weren't doing too much as a line," Jagr said. "We had to change something."

Hlinka, on the victory: "I am very happy about what happened here tonight. I have to say thanks to all the players. They worked very hard for it."

Many of the Penguins made sure to tip their caps to the Sabres, who overcame a 2-0 series deficit and were only 1:18 away from winning it in Game 6 at Mellon Arena. "They played a great series," D Bob Boughner said. "They had a rough first two games, and I think it showed a lot for them to battle back. They have a lot of character over there, nothing to be ashamed of. I just think it's a tough thing to come home and play a Game 7 if you lost the game before that."

D Ian Moran, on his defense partner Kasparaitis getting the winner: "To tell you the truth, he was really on fire in the morning skate. I was calling him Al MacInnis, the way he was shooting the puck. He told me he was hot. He was feeling it."

Hedberg, on the same subject: "I knew he was going to score. I had a good feeling as soon as he got the puck."

Unsung hero on that winning goal was LW Martin Straka, who went hard to the net and rubbed Sabres D Alexei Zhitnik out of the play just in front of Hasek to give Kasparaitis room to join the play.

The Penguins improved to 5-4 in Game 7s, including 3-0 on the road. They are 5-0 in Games 7s after winning Game 6. They also improved their overtime record to 15-14, 3-2 in these playoffs.

Tickets for Games 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference final, the first two at Mellon Arena, will go on sale this morning through the Penguins and Ticketmaster.

Lightning LW Matthew Barnaby, formerly of the Penguins, was in the corridor outside the locker room congratulating his old teammates on the victory. Barnaby, who also used to play for Buffalo, has never made a secret of his disdain for the Sabres.

SABRES NOTEBOOK

The Sabres scratched LW Erik Rasmussen (back), D Jay McKee (concussion), C Chris Taylor, LW Rob Ray, LW Eric Boulton, D Chris Campbell and D Doug Houda.

G Dominik Hasek gave up only 16 goals in the series on 171 shots, a .906 save percentage, and he saved his finest work for the final two games. But he was disconsolate after the game last night, noting that the Sabres had blown four one-goal leads in the final two games, including two last night. "If you look at the way those games were, we had all those leads and they always came back," Hasek said. "If you're up four times and you let the other team come back every time, something is wrong."

Buffalo appeared to become passive immediately after Penguins C Robert Lang tied the score with 11 minutes left in regulation. Only one forward forechecked, and the defensemen became reluctant to pinch along the boards as aggressively as they had all series. "I don't think we were tight. I didn't feel that at all," C Stu Barnes said. "I felt we gave it everything we had the whole way. There isn't a guy in here who didn't give everything he had until the end." "We encouraged them to play the same style they were playing," Coach Lindy Ruff said.

Someone asked Barnes about the irony of the Sabres losing an overtime game because the late man on a three-on-two found the net. Barnes was the goal-scorer in that situation in Game 5, but it was Penguins D Darius Kasparaitis last night. "All kinds of things can happen in that situation when you're the late guy," Barnes said. "Give them credit. They made a good play."

Ruff clearly was unhappy with his forwards who allowed that three-on-two. "The bottom line is we got beat up ice," he said. "Our forwards got beat up ice." The Buffalo line on the rink at the time was C Doug Gilmour, LW Miroslav Satan and RW Steve Heinze. Heinze had appeared to be in line to be the hero when he gave the Sabres a 2-1 lead on a power-play deflection 32 seconds in the third period.

Buffalo's players didn't seem to care much that it was Kasparaitis, rather than one of the Penguins' stars, who netted the winner. "You expect maybe Mario Lemieux or Jaromir Jagr, but that's not how it usually works in the playoffs," D Rhett Warrener said. "Kasparaitis is the guy who shot the puck. That's how it goes."

The Sabres fell to 1-4 in Game 7s. Their only victory came April 29, 1997, in the first round against the Senators, when Penguins D Bob Boughner played for Buffalo. The Sabres also dropped to 0-16 in series when losing the first two games.

After failing to fill HSBC Arena for Game 1, Buffalo drew capacity crowds of 18,690 to its final three home games. More Pittsburghers attended than for any of the previous games here.

MINOR-LEAGUE REPORT

Thursday's result

WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON (10-4) did not play. The Baby Penguins took a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference final of the Calder Cup playoffs Wednesday with a 5-4 overtime victory at Hershey. D Michal Rozsival scored the winner at 5:02 of overtime. "You have to have players step up each night," Coach Glenn Patrick said. "When you have guys doing that, it's great for the team." Game 4 is tomorrow in Hershey.

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