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The Big Picture: Penguins-Sabres still a close call for broadcasters

Wednesday, May 09, 2001

You consider the hasty and heart-aching manner in which Buffalo watched a series triumph vaporize in a western New York minute: Gone in 78 Seconds. You heed the Penguins' come-from-3-2-behind success in the past playoff decade: 4-0. So you conclude that Game 7 tonight should tilt in the Penguins' favor.

Then you run your theory past a couple of Penguins broadcasters, fellas who wore the team's sweater and endured the crucible of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and they basically tell you:

Wrong, puckhead.

"It's such an even series," Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh color commentator Ed Olczyk said yesterday. "Anything can happen."

"All these games have been so close, any of them could have gone either way," Penguins Radio Network color commentator Bob Errey added. "I just don't think you can put a lot of stock into what happened before."

In short, they color this series gray.

Bounces went the Penguins' way in Games 1, 2 and 6 victories. Dribbles and caroms tended toward the Sabres in Games 4 and 5. There's no black and white heretofore. It's basically paint by numbers in the hands of the hockey gods.

"I've played in a couple of Game 7s and been a part [broadcasting] some Games 7s," Olczyk said. "Your mindset has to be: Do what you do best and, if you think it's right, do it. The veteran guys the Penguins have, and a guy like Mario Lemieux. . . you can't get caught looking for the big guys.

"The Penguins have had a unbelievable run after winning Game 6 in series," he added, referring to 1991 (New Jersey), 1992 (Washington), 1995 (Washington again) and 1999 (New Jersey again) first-round rallies from a 3-2 deficit.

On the flip side, the Sabres have never lost a Game 7 on home ice, even if their record is only 1-0, after since-shuffled goaltender Steve Shields pitched that 1997 shutout (Ottawa).

"You know what, Buffalo can look at it the same way. It's all about the approach and the attitude you have. Lindy Ruff is a good coach, and it helps to have guys who've been around the block a few thousand times like Dougy Gilmour and Dave Andreychuk. Buffalo also feels it has Dominik Hasek, and it will take its chances with him."

Errey played on those 1991 and 1992 Penguins clubs that used first-round, 3-2 deficits as a step ladder to sip from Cups. In half of four such seven-game series rallies over the past decade, they closed the deal on the road. Yet he remembered another slice of postseason precedence: After a woeful 7-1 Game 6 loss in 1994 to Detroit on home ice, his San Jose Sharks traveled to the self-professed Hockeytown and won Game 7. So Buffalo isn't dead yet.

"That was a miracle," Errey said of the Penguins' last-minute(-and-18-seconds) goal and overtime Game 6 victory Tuesday at Mellon Arena, 3-2. "Any words you can think of.

"But if the Penguins think, 'We have everything going for us,' ... they're in trouble. Dominik Hasek doesn't have many more years left. He can smell success as well as anybody. So can Mario."

Finally, somebody agreed with one shred of my theory.

"It might be a little bit harder for Buffalo in Game 7," Errey continued. "Because if you have one or two guys thinking, 'Darn it, we had it; look at what we blew' ... the Sabres are the kind of team that can't afford to have a couple of passengers. So you've got to jump on them early. If you don't get them early, their confidence will build.

"But, holy moley. The way the playoffs are going now, that lucky bounce could lead the Penguins to the promised land. Amazing."

Ratings winner

Lemieux and the Penguins also beat Regis Philbin, Judge Amy and Andy Sipowicz Tuesday.

Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh earned a 15.2 Nielsen overnight rating in this market, beating Regis' "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" (14.7) and Sipowicz's "NYPD Blue" (12.7) on ABC, along with CBS' "Judging Amy" (13.7). That marked the second-highest Penguins rating this season, after a 15.9 for Lemieux's Dec. 27 return, and the seventh-highest for hockey on the cable channel since such Nielsens were tracked in 1994.

Viewership peaked at 23-plus in the third period and drooped slightly to 21-plus in overtime.

Program notes

You might have heard Olczyk's voice on WEAE-AM Monday night, when he was a late substitute for the Westwood One/NHL Radio broadcast of the New Jersey-Toronto Game 6. Because local broadcasters give way to the networks in the playoffs' final two rounds, he is scheduled to work either conference final, all depending on a New Jersey victory last night. "Hopefully, it's Jersey-Pittsburgh, for selfish reasons," Olczyk said.

You might have seen a new FoxBox on Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh's Pirates telecast last night. It's more of a FoxBand or a FoxTail, this line that runs across the top of your TV screen. The men-on-base diamond stays in the upper-left corner, and the Fox Sports Net logo moves to the upper-right corner. It's neat and clean and cool, and it allows for such pertinent information to drop from the screen-top band: "Favorite TV show: Dukes of Hazzard."

Chuck Finder can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com

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