Solving the Dominator, Cujo
Goalies assume center stage in Eastern Conference final
Posted: Saturday May 22, 1999 09:48 PM
"We have a lot of confidence right now," Toronto center Steve Sullivan said Saturday after the Leafs held a light workout in preparation for the Eastern Conference finals against the Buffalo Sabres and their incredible goaltender.
"We haven't faced him yet. It's not like we're down three games to none and haven't scored any goals. By no means are we intimidated right now by Dominik Hasek."
Like most Stanley Cup playoffs, the best-of-7 series which begins here Sunday, most likely will be one of matchups. Buffalo's Michael Peca and Toronto's Mats Sundin, captains and leaders of their teams, are expected to be at each other's throat every shift, looking for that defensive lapse.
But all eyes will be riveted on the goalies -- Hasek, the league's MVP the past two seasons, and 10-year vet Curtis Joseph, still striving to get his name etched on the Stanley Cup.
Hasek has stopped 290 of the 308 shots he has faced so far in the playoffs, helping the Sabres to the conference finals for the second straight year. Joseph has allowed just 25 goals in 12 games and stopped 291 of 313 shots in leading the Leafs past Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. They're one step away from their first appearance in the finals since they won their last Stanley Cup in 1967.
Both goalies downplayed the oh-so-important roles goaltenders always assume in the postseason, when allowing a soft goal can be oh-so-costly in a short series.
"I don't view it as goalie against goalie," said Joseph, who will be playing in the third round for the first time in his career. "There's a lot of factors that contribute to saves and goals. It's a team game. He's [Hasek] definitely creative in his style. He's come up with some different moves that other guys wouldn't even think about trying. He knows what he's doing and makes himself as big as possible. But we've got some good scorers on this team, and hopefully, when it comes down to it, we can put some goals past him."
"I think the way the goalie plays is very important for the team," Hasek said. "But there are 19 other guys."
The Sabres, who are unbeaten in five games on the road in these playoffs, are still without one of their key players. Miroslav Satan, their leading scorer during the regular season with 40 goals, has missed the past month with a bruised right foot, injured in the Sabres' first-round sweep of Ottawa. He skated gingerly Saturday and is nearly ready to return.
If the Sabres have an edge, it likely is in the experience of last year. They upset Philadelphia in the first round, then swept the Montreal Canadiens in four straight and began celebrating their good fortune a bit too soon. They were beaten in the next round by the Washington Capitals in a goaltending battle that Hasek lost to Olaf Kolzig.
"We are proud we made the conference final again," Hasek said. "But last year I felt that we were over-excited just to make the conference final. This year we feel like it's nice to be here, but we want to go farther. I am positive we are a more focused team than last year at this time."
"This year we're a lot more humble about the situation," Peca added. "The atmosphere around the locker room is that we haven't accomplished anything. We realize the opportunity that we didn't capitalize on. It hurt. We wanted another opportunity, and this year we're going to see to it that we don't let this one go."
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