No Hasek, no problem
Roloson, Sabres turn back Leafs 5-4 to take Game 1
Posted: Monday May 24, 1999 09:14 AM
With Hasek nursing his chronically injured groin, Dwayne Roloson was given the start in goal for Buffalo in the opener of the Eastern Conference finals. It was his first-ever playoff start, and he measured up, stopping 28 shots as the Sabres escaped with a 5-4 victory.
Hasek practiced on Saturday but appeared to be slow, and Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff knew right away what he would do.
"I wanted to surprise them [the Maple Leafs]," Ruff said of his decision to wait until just before game time to announce that Hasek wasn't playing. "And it worked tonight."
The series was supposed to be a battle of two of the best goalies in the world -- Hasek and Curtis Joseph of the Maple Leafs. Instead, it was a veritable rookie against Joseph, and it was the 10-year veteran who turned in the shaky game in the tense atmosphere of Air Canada Centre.
"I sort of knew what was happening last night but wasn't sure really until this morning," Roloson said. "I just tried to relax. I went for a short walk with a couple of teammates and tried not to get too far ahead of myself. It's hard when you haven't played much."
Roloson, with not as much help from his teammates as he might have liked -- the Maple Leafs had nine power plays -- got enough in the third period when Curtis Brown broke a 3-3 tie at 5:21 and Geoff Sanderson notched the game-winner with just under seven minutes remaining in regulation.
"It seemed like everything they touched turned to a goal," said a disheartened Joseph. "He [Roloson] played very good for a guy who hasn't played in a while. I need to make the big save and I didn't. I suppose I could have tried a little harder on some of the screen shots. I have to and I didn't."
Joseph, who had allowed just 25 goals in 12 games and stopped 291 of 313 shots in leading the Maple Leafs past Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in the first two rounds, allowed the five goals on Buffalo's first 19 shots and finished with 16 saves. Even Stu Barnes got in the act, scoring his first goal since March for the Sabres.
The Maple Leafs will have until Game 2 in Toronto on Tuesday night to contemplate a lost opportunity. Whether they face Hasek or Roloson remained a mystery.
"We made a lot of mistakes," said Toronto captain Mats Sundin, who had two goals and an assist but was on the ice for three Buffalo goals. "When you come to the playoffs you can't afford that. We had a game plan to put a lot of pucks on net, but we shot ourselves in the foot instead. We had all the chances to win and we didn't."
At times, it was difficult to figure out who had a bigger bundle of nerves. Roloson, who relieved Hasek in the third period of Game 5 against Boston in the previous round and played well, didn't appear to be intimidated by the hostile surroundings in this hockey-crazed city.
"I felt a lot better in the third period," he said. "I just tried to keep it simple, stay focused and slow the puck down."
Sanderson's winning goal was stunning. He took a soft pass from Erik Rasmussen near the Toronto blue line, fought off the check of defenseman Sylvain Cote with one hand and shoveled the puck past Joseph with the other as he cruised by the crease.
"He was explosive when he got the puck," said Dixon Ward, who scored unassisted in the first period to give Buffalo a 2-1 lead. "He had four or five great shots coming down the wing. Sooner or later something's got to give."
This time it was Joseph. Hasek, meanwhile, said he didn't know what to expect. The injury has plagued him since February, but he has played through the pain until now.
"I'm very worried about it," he said. "I just hope I wake up the next day and be better to play. It never healed 100 percent. I am not right now. I don't have to be 100 percent to play, but I'm not able to go up and down."
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