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Penguins Penguins best Sabres in OT win, advance to face Devils

Hero in disguise, Kasparaitis unlikely source to win series with OT goal

Friday, May 11, 2001

By Dave Molinari, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Darius Kasparaitis of the Penguins is the one of the most hated guys in the NHL.

A guy who plays a gritty, nasty game.

A guy whose game is built on toughness, not talent.

The shot: The Penguins' Darius Kasparaitis drills in the winning overtime goal against Buffalo last night. (Matt Freed, Post-Gazette)

And a guy who, every now and then, does something to make an indelible mark on franchise history.

Like score a goal at 13:01 of overtime that gave the Penguins a 3-2 victory against Buffalo in Game 7 of their second round playoff series at HSBC Arena last night.

The victory comes with a berth in the Eastern Conference final against New Jersey. Game 1 is 7:08 p.m. tomorrow at Continental Airlines Arena.

The Devils claimed their spot in the conference final by knocking off Toronto in seven games. And while New Jersey figures to be the favorite, it's worth noting that the Penguins upset the Devils during Round 1 in 1999, and went 3-1-1 against them in the past regular season.

New Jersey will be facing a team whose lineup includes some of the most feared offensive players in the game. No matter how long the list is, however, Kasparaitis isn't likely to turn up on it.

He has 19 goals in 568 regular-season games and two in 56 during the playoffs. Rank the Penguins most likely to score an overtime goal in Game 7, and Kasparaitis figures to turn up just slightly ahead of backup goalie Jean-Sebastien Aubin.

Maybe.

 
 
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Game 7

Flashback
In his April 25 column Ron Cook talked about Darius Kasparaitis' brand of hockey

   
 

"I still can't believe I scored a goal," Kasparaitis said, nearly 15 minutes after the fact.

Neither, it is safe to assume, could most of the crowd of 18,690 at HSBC Arena. Not most of the guys on the Penguins' bench, for that matter.

"I haven't seen Kaspar score a goal in practice, never mind in a game," left winger Kevin Stevens said. "If I had to pick one guy, he'd be the least [likely] to score."

True enough, but there was nothing fluky about the way Kasparaitis ended the series. He came late on a rush, took a feed from center Robert Lang, then threw a shot past the glove of Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek from the left side of the slot.

"It just found a spot," Hasek said.

Kasparaitis got involved in the offense at the behest of forwards Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka and Lang, who became linemates after Buffalo took a 2-1 lead early in the third period.

"[Jagr], Marty and [Lang] told me to jump into the play every time I had a chance," Kasparaitis said. "That's all I did. I tried to jump into the play, and [Lang] saw me wide open. He gave me the puck.

"I was going to pass it, but I said, 'I've got to shoot the puck.' I shot the puck, and I saw it going in."

Kasparaitis' goal earned a footnote in franchise history, because the Penguins had lost their only previous Game 7 that went to overtime; David Volek of the New York Islanders ended their season in 1993.

Kasparaitis, coincidentally, was a member of that Islanders team.

An elated Darius Kasparaitis drops to body surf the rink after scoring last night's winning overtime goal, capping a grueling seven game second-round battle with the Sabres. (Matt Freed, Post-Gazette)

Kasparaitis' goal ended the game, but the victory might be able to be traced to a decision by Coach Ivan Hlinka, acting on a suggestion from Mario Lemieux, made early in the third, after Buffalo took a 2-1 lead on a power-play goal by Steve Heinze.

Lemieux suggested putting Jagr with Lang and Straka, and moving Alexei Kovalev up with Lemieux and Stevens.

Lang, after some excellent work by Jagr in the Buffalo zone, scored the goal that forced overtime nine minutes into the third.

The Penguins never had a lead until Kasparaitis scored. J.P. Dumont put Buffalo in front, 1-0, at 1:50 of the second, and Andrew Ference countered for the Penguins on a power play at 8:19.

After Heinze and Lang swapped goals in the third, if became evident that the next one would determine who moved on to play the Devils. And make no mistake, it wasn't clear until Kasparaitis beat Hasek just which team that would be.

"It was a battle," Stevens said. "You have to give them credit. They played their brains out."

That was particularly true of Hasek, who made superb stops on Lang and Ference in overtime before failing to get his glove on Kasparaitis' shot.

"Hasek played great," Kasparaitis said. "He's the best goalie in the world."

But he wasn't quite good enough to prevent the Penguins from winning at HSBC for the third time in four tries. To keep them from advancing to the conference final for the first time since 1996.

To prevent Kasparaitis from living a fantasy he had nurtured since breaking into the NHL.

"I've dreamed about this for nine years," he said. "This is what happens when you believe in yourself."

The Penguins know all about that. About being resilient and focused and determined, too. And about simply refusing to lose.

After all, two nights earlier, they had been just a shift or two removed from the off-season when Mario Lemieux put Game 6 into overtime by scoring after goalie Johan Hedberg had been replaced with an extra attacker.

"The last game, we were one minute [actually, 78 seconds] away from being eliminated from the playoffs, and Mario brought his magic," Kasparaitis said. "Tonight, I did it."

Whether anyone thought that he could do it is beside the point. But having Lemieux -- who still doesn't have an overtime point in his playoff career -- was a more likely hero, but the videotape doesn't lie.

It shows Kasparaits moving into the play. Shooting the puck. Raising his arms. Being mobbed by his teammates.

"We're here and we're celebrating, so it means somebody scored," Kasparaitis said. " Guys started hugging me, so it means I did it."

Precisely how he did it, well, it really doesn't matter. But the reality is that it ended the series on a shot that any one of his teammates would have been proud to claim.

"That was a heck of a goal," Ference said. "It wasn't a lucky shot. It wasn't a bad bounce. It was a good goal. And what a way to end it."

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