Sabres Are Deflated

From Associated Press

The sounds told the story, thousands of balloons popping in the stands of the Marine Midland arena. Minutes later Dominik Hasek’s frenzied voice was heard in the hallway after the game and finally, the stunning silence in the Buffalo Sabres dressing room.

They are the soundtrack of a glorious season, a first-place season, unraveling under the pressure of a confident, unflinching, relentless bunch of Ottawa Senators.

The Senators smothered the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 on Friday night for a 3-2 series lead and have now brought the Northeast Division champion Sabres, a team rapidly self-destructing, to the brink of elimination.


It can happen tonight at the Corel Centre, when the Sabres will once again have to deal with another crisis swirling around Hasek.

After Friday night’s game, he confronted writer Jim Kelley of the Buffalo News, who hinted earlier this week the star goaltender was not seriously injured in Game 3, but might have quit on his team.

There were angry words and Kelley was led away, his shirt ripped. It was a bizarre ending to a night that was marked by the frustration of the Sabres and the faultless excellence of the Senators.

“We’re so tight, we’re not making plays to create chances,” said Buffalo’s Donald Audette. “We’ll just have to go out with the attitude we have nothing to lose.”

The Sabres have announced Hasek will not play Sunday because of his injured knee, but Senators captain Randy Cunneyworth wouldn’t be surprised to see Hasek in the Buffalo goal for Game 6.

“I’m sure if there’s any chance of him coming back, he’ll be in,” said Cunneyworth. “But our game plan won’t change. We won’t deviate from it.”


The Senators’ faultless play Friday night turned the crowd against the Sabres. The fans were given long, skinny balloons to wave during the game.

“C’mon, folks, let’s put the whammy on the Senators!” said the announcer.

There has been a lot of talk about Buffalo Coach Ted Nolan’s candidacy for coach of the year, but one area where the Sabres have been woefully inadequate in this series is adjusting to Ottawa’s neutral zone trap.

Time and again, the Senators’ 1-2-2 alignment has forced the Sabres to the right-wing boards, where the Sabres defenseman or winger could only chip the puck up the boards.

Ottawa brought its left defenseman up to the wall at the red-line and constantly cut the puck off and fired it back into the Buffalo zone, where the whole process would begin over again.

“You can’t keep dumping the puck into the areas where they want you to dump it,” Nolan said. “We’re just throwing it too quickly up the boards rather than making an intelligent play.”

As the clock wound down in the third period Friday night, the fans starting popping the balloons and as the horn sounded, the building was filled with the sounds--Hasek’s voice, the silence in their room--of the air going out of the Sabres season.