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This Day in Sabres History

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June 15, 1999

The events of Game 6 seem to be all anyone ever wants to remember about the 1999 Stanley Cup finals. So for a moment let's forget how it all ended and remember what was at the time the greatest win in franchise history. Here's what Game 4 looked like to this intrepid observer:




Sabres go on warpath to scalp Stars, tie series


Buffalo ? The heat wave was gone. The sea of red was ? for the most part ? gone. The 1975 Sabres were gone, from our minds, at least.


But the Buffalo Sabres were back! The speedy Sabres, the feisty Sabres, the reckless Sabres.


And so was a classic chant from the early 1970s that 18,595 hockey-jacked fans dusted off midway through game four's nerve-wracking third period: "Oo, ah...Sabres on the warpath...oo, ah!"


The chant might be politically incorrect in these final days of the 1990s, but it's a perfect slogan for how the Sabres played on a chilly Tuesday night in downtown Buffalo: they simply skated on an icy warpath to vanquish the Dallas Stars 2-1 and even the best-of-seven Stanley Cup finals at two games apiece. Game five is in Dallas on Thursday, and, no matter what, game six is in Buffalo on Saturday.


Lord Stanley will be in the building.


"Emotion and passion were what won us the hockey game," said Lindy Ruff afterwards, singling out Dominik Hasek as the emotional leader in the game and citing the goaltender's tone-setting comments to the team on Monday about opening up offensively, odd-man rushes be damned.


"Well, he said it all really. What he said was, bring it on. Dominik said, listen, go for it. If it's breakaways or two-on-ones, I am up to the challenge. And if this team thinks they are going to be physical, I am going to get involved, too," Ruff said.


The Dominator was true to his word ? he got very involved when the Stars wanted to get Olivia-Newton-John-physical. Hasek had the stick slashed out of his hands by Joe Nieuwendyk late in the second period and was cheap-shotted from behind by Pat Verbeek while referee Dan Marouelli held him up after the final whistle.


But Hasek remained defiant while making 30 saves in the game, 13 of them in the third period. Late in the third, he threw off his blocker glove after Nieuwendyk ripped the stick from his hands, then skated behind the net and shook his bare right fist at two of the Stars.


Thanks to The Dominator's refusal to back down in the face of a Stars' team that desperately wanted to win and close out the series in Dallas on Thursday night and thanks to Randy Cunneyworth's willingness to sit down in the crease and block Craig Ludwig's sure goal early in the third period, something else will be back in Buffalo: the Sabres. And, for the first time since 1975, so will the Stanley Cup.


Y'all come back now, ya hear.


"We found a way to get back to playing the way we want to play, This was the biggest game of our lives, no question about it," said Dixon Ward, who scored the game-winning goal. "We don't win this game, we are in trouble ? big, big trouble. So we had no choice but to throw everything out there."


They threw everything out there all right, but ? unlike game three ? they conserved their energy, playing passionately but picking their spots, rolling four lines and employing shorter shifts than in the game on Saturday night. Mike Peca's shifts were five seconds shorter on average, Curtis Brown's 12 seconds shorter, Alexei Zhitnik's nine seconds and so on.


The strategy worked. Buffalo had only 18 shots on goal, but that's a ton compared to the Zigmund-paltry dozen in game three. Many of the shots forced Ed Belfour to stand on his head, especially his point-blank pad save on Joey Juneau, his miraculous goal-mouth stick save on Miroslav Satan and his flopping save on Curtis Brown's deflection from the slot, all on second-period Buffalo power plays to keep the Sabres from taking a two-goal lead.



Sabres 'ward' off blocked shot, regain lead


Ward was the only player on either team to skate in his team's optional practice on Sunday, so it was appropriate that the free-spirited veteran didn't need anyone's help to score an unassisted goal in the second period that put the Sabres back into the lead, 2-1, and eventually held up as the game-winning goal.


Except, that is, the help of Craig Ludwig, the fossilized 38-year-old defenseman of the Stars who skated backwards in his own zone and attempted to pass Mike Peca's soft dump-in across to his defense partner Shawn Chambers.


But, suddenly wearing the jersey of the turnover-cursed Toronto Maple Leafs, Ludwig bobbled the puck off his stick right to the hard-charging Ward, who stepped to the left hash mark and zipped a wrist shot ? no slappers on this night ? over the falling Ludwig ? no blocks, either ? inside the left post at 7:37 of the second period.


"I knew he was going to go down on one knee. The way he blocks shots, he goes down on one knee and lays one leg out in front of you. The only way to get it by him is to go over his leg. Fortunately, it was in the right angle where it went in the side of the net," said Ward, who explained that he was too tired to flamboyantly celebrate the goal, adding, mysteriously, that one day he would explain the real reason for his understated celebration.


Had he crapped himself? What? Dixon, inquiring minds want to know.


"I was just trying to throw it over to my partner, Shawn (Chambers), and it bounced right off the top of my stick," Ludwig explained. "He just shot it over the top of me. I think I screened Eddie on it, and he didn't have a chance."



Sanderson 'finally listened'


Chambers was the one who didn't have a chance in a scoreless first period. The puck bounced past him at the right point in the Buffalo zone, and Geoff Sanderson saddled past him, picked it up at the red line and was gone down the left wing. As the fans stood, as the Buffalo bench stood and as time stood still, Sabres' fans everywhere were all screaming the same one-syllable word as The Sand Man broke in all alone on Belfour: DEKE!


This time, finally, thank God, he did!


Sanderson faked a shot at the top of the left circle, something the team had worked on in practice, got Belfour leaning to his right outside the crease, then raced in, pulled the puck to his backhand and slipped it into the empty net, tripping over Belfour's left leg and Bobby s-Orring through the air with 11:51 left on the smoking Jumbotron.


When Sanderson skated to the bench to bump gloves with his teammates, Ruff yelled at him over the din of the aluminum-Stanley-Cup-carrying crowd, "You finally listened." Sanderson, who was taken off the Curtis Brown line so Joey Juneau could join it and add some offensive punch, shot back ? not even deking ? "The puck wasn't in the right position to shoot."


"That was the first time I deked, yeah. I have been stuffed quite a few times just going down shooting it. I had to come down the wing on a different angle and that gave me the opportunity to put a little deke on him," said Sanderson.



Modano to Lehtinen ties it, again


The Stars tied the game 2:05 later with Wayne Primeau in the penalty box for charging after he slammed Darryl Sydor into the boards behind the Dallas net. Mike Modano caught Brown in No Man's Land beside the Buffalo net and threaded a pass to Jere Lehtinen, who beat Hasek inside the left post from the right hash mark with a one-legged falling-away one-timer.



The game is over!


The Stars outshot the Sabres 13-2 in the final period; it took the Sabres until 6:27 was left to get their first shot on goal, an Erik Rasmussen deflection from close range that a falling Belfour shook off his right shoulder.


Despite the wide advantage in shots, the Stars enjoyed only a few legitimate chances to score. The Sabres limited them to largely perimeter shots and few rebounds, Jamie Langenbrunner's glorious chances the rare exceptions.


Langenbrunner was foiled twice in a row by Hasek from the left circle after an almost disastrous wholesale change by the Sabres, then Cunneyworth made one of the biggest saves of this game or any Sabres' game, going down in the crease and getting his left knee on Ludwig's point shot that was labeled for the corner of the empty net.


Shortly after that, Hasek made a blocker save on Sergei Zubov's zipper from just inside the blue line after a faceoff loss, then went on to make a butterflying pad save on Guy Carbonneau from the right dot two minutes later and a stack-your-pads beauty on the wrapping-around Dave Reid with just under eight minutes to go.


"I just try to do my job," the always humble Hasek said. As often as we talk about his fiery volatility and his quirky alien-like habits, humility really is the most characteristic aspect of Hasek's personality.


The Sabres helped themselves immensely by actually winning more faceoffs than the Stars in the third period, though Dallas outdrew the Sabres 34-23 in the game.


The final coronary-artery-spasming 3:09 of game four of the Stanley Cup finals was played without a whistle, without any chance to breathe. The Sabres clogged up the neutral zone and time and time again denied the Stars' entry into the Niagara Frontier of the Buffalo zone. They deftly dumped the puck into the Dallas zone, taking great care not to ice it. The soft dumps turned the big Dallas "D" around and made them skate almost 200 feet in the other direction.


The final minute was as harrowing as being strapped in a commuter plane landing in a snowstorm. Zubov's one-timer slipped wide with 46 seconds to go, then Brown and Wayne Primeau teamed up to make a critical clear with 23 seconds to go. Brown fenced Nieuwendyk's pass away from Reid, positioned dangerously in the slot, and Primeau threw his big body on the ice just inside the blue line to sweep the puck over Zubov's head to center ice.


With 13 seconds to go, Warrener sand-wedged the puck into the Dallas zone, where it landed softly and held the green until Peca could get there and negate any icing.


After Langenbrunner took a run at the celebrating Warrener in front of the Sabres' net as the horn sounded, the biggest win of the season ended, appropriately enough, in war.


Oo, ah!





Dominik Hasek. Went for it! Assistant Superhero: Randy Cunneyworth. Now we got ourselves a grizzled veteran.


Demonic Goatheads

Craig Ludwig and Shawn Chambers. Ludwig is wearing an adult diaper, what's Chambers' excuse?


The Ultimate Play

Dominik Hasek gives Jamie Langenbrunner the five-hole, then cruelly takes it away early in the third period. A moment later, Randy Cunneyworth gives up his 38-year-old left patella to block Craig Ludwig's slapshot that would otherwise have banged inside the right post and tied the game.


The Turning Point

The Dallas Stars are taking control of the game early in the second period, winning all the battles down low and dangerously cycling the puck. In the neutral zone, they are backchecking the puck off the sticks of the Sabres and turning it right back into the Buffalo zone. It's just a proverbial matter of time when Craig Ludwig tosses all that momentum away like a snot-covered Kleenex. God bless you!


The Key to the Series:

Can the Sabres stay composed?


Game Four: Yes. Played calmly under intense pressure that came from within, not without. They won for themselves, not necessarily the fans, the media or the franchise. There's a big difference. Didn't wilt when Stars came back to tie the game 2:05 after Geoff Sanderson gave them the early 1-0 lead. Gutsy play after gutsy play in the pressure-packed third.


Game Three: No.


Game Two: Yes.


Game One: Yes.


The Unheralded Play

With 5:06 to go in the third period, Brian Holzinger has a scorpion in his underpants and propels himself down the ice in time to drill Derian Hatcher into the glass behind the Dallas cage and allow Geoff Sanderson to finagle his way in, touch the puck first and prevent an icing.


The Big Clicks

Erik Rasmussen, Vaclav Varada and Dixon Ward tag-team the 6'5, 225-pound captain of the Stars, Derian Hatcher, in the third period.


Inside the Numbers

A bit of a concern here: the Sabres have not scored a power play goal in their last 14 chances.


In the (Buffalo) Wings

A fateful trip to Dallas.

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Oh, yes. Thank you PAFAn. That kind of writing/memory/happiness is just not available anywhere else. It might even tide me over 'til October.


Go Sabres.

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Man, i miss your old website....


That night wasn't chilly... ;) I remember that whole postseason like it was yesterday. Ahh memories.

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