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Hockey

Day at a Glance: What injuries?

Revved-up Sabres can't trip hobbled, shot-blocking Stars

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Posted: Sunday June 13, 1999 08:03 PM

By Jamie MacDonald, CNN/SI

 
In the Crease
Sports Illustrated contributor Pierre McGuire , a former coach of the Hartford Whalers, dissects strategy for CNNSI.com throughout the Stanley Cup finals.

What a lesson the Dallas Stars gave the younger Buffalo Sabres in Game 3. The Stars made the Sabres look as if they were skating in quicksand. The Sabres could not establish any flow because of the persistent checking and pursuit of the more experienced Stars. While Joe Nieuwendyk was a stellar offensive force, it was foot soldiers like Guy Carbonneau and Brian Skrudland who made the game so tough for the Sabres. The Stars are now on top of their game and the solid veteran leadership of that club seems to understand the price that must be paid to take home the Cup.

Dallas put on a defensive clinic. The Stars blocked 19 shots, covered the slot, and played nearly perfect transition defense. Offensively, the Stars finally started to use the net as a point of reference on their cycling plays, and by doing that they created a lot of down-low scoring opportunities. The Dallas line of Nieuwendyk-Dave Reid-Jamie Langenbrunner exposed the down-low coverage weakness of the Sabres for most of the last two periods. The Sabres are going to have to straighten out how they want to play down low in their own end and come up with better support-mode defense.

The Sabres must also find a way to get more pucks to the net and create second-chance scoring opportunities. The Buffalo power play can be successful (it was 0-8 in Game 3) if either Jason Woolley or Alexei Zhitnik can do a better job of getting to the middle of the ice when the Sabres have possession in the offensive zone. And if they can walk the offensive blue line, the Sabres defensemen will open up more shooting and passing lanes -- if not, the Stars will continue to block shots and frustrate the Buffalo attack.

Another thing that the Sabres must do is get better gap control in the neutral zone. In Game 3 the Stars gained the offensive zone far too easily because the Buffalo defensemen were back on their heels. Usually that can be a sign of a fatigued defense or a defense that is afraid to made a mistake. Either way the Sabres coaches know that they'll have to remedy that problem in a hurry.

Game 4 is really a Game 7 for the Sabres. The extra day of rest should help the older Stars, while leaving the Sabres to stew in all the questions that have been raised by their two straight losses. The Sabres need to get down in the dirt and win the one-on-one battles or their season will be over by the end of the week.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- And on the seventh day, the Stanley Cup finals took a couple days off. The quest for the Cup will resume here Tuesday night with the home town team clearly in trouble.

Rather than ride the crest of emotion in front of a loud and proud home crowd, the Sabres may have been swept under it by the rock-solid Dallas Stars.

"We were pumped up to play," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff in the post- game interview. "We ran around and tried to hit everything in sight. I think we just burned ourselves out. We were so pumped up for a little while that instread of chasing pucks and making plays, we ran around looking for hits. They weathered the strom and they won a typical playoff game for them."

The Sabres did win the hitting battle, 35-21 (Jay McKee led the way with a game-high seven), but the home team lost a few more important statistical battles that would be their downfall.

Dallas blocked 19 shots -- seven more than Stars goaltender Eddie Belfour even saw. (Buffalo's dozen shots tied a record for the fewest shots taken in a Cup final and contributed to the lowest shot count between two teams in finals history with 41.)

The Stars' effectiveness in winning games with forechecking and defense could not have been more apparent in Game 3.

Sabres defenseman Rhett Warrener, though, is looking to Game 4.

"We have a couple of days here and we will regroup," he said. "Coaches will take a look at things, I'm sure, and will give us a different look at getting the puck out of our end. We missed one here, but everyone knows we are still in it. It's only 2-1 ... we are still confident."

Storylines We're Following

Another groin pain
Alanis Morissette may have put it best when she asked isn't it ironic. We figured the most-talked about groin in this series would be that of Dominik Hasek and the Stars' injury report would feature Mike Modano. Leave it to Brett Hull to steal the spotlight. Coach Ken Hitchcock said that if there were a game on Sunday, Hull would be sitting. Since Hull has twice this season been hampered by a strained groin -- but with different recovery times -- the Dallas sniper is day-to-day.

Hull's replacement
Hitchcock wasn't committing to either, but seemed most comfortable with using Darryl Sydor and/or Tony Hrkac with Modano and Jere Lehtinen . Hitch likes Sydor's energy, when he isn't trying to "kill everybody" and Hrkac's work while skating with Modano in Game 3.

Sabres power play
Coming into the Cup finals, Buffalo's power play was the most successful in the playoffs, but in Game 3, the Sabres went 0-8 in 14 minutes and 14 seconds with the man advantage. Dallas, meanwhile, has only allowed three goals in 47 shorthanded situations in the playoffs.

NHL's Three Stars
Each day throughout the Stanley Cup finals, we'll take a look at three key individuals.

Joe Nieuwendyk . Even though everyone knows how dangerous he is in front, he still found ways to get himself open. Two of his four shots gave the Stars their eighth win by a one-goal margin in the playoffs. He also won 13 of his 18 faceoffs.

Dave Reid . Both Nieuwendyk and Jamie Langenbrunner will tell you what a difference he makes for them on the ice. Credited with the first assist on the first Dallas goal, it was his work in the corners that allowed Langenbrunner and Nieuwendyk to connect for the game-winner.

Guy Carbonneau . His role on faceoffs increased and he ended up taking a game-high 29 (winning 58 percent). He's also dropping to block shots -- two of his three blocked shots would have tested Belfour.

Bandwagon
Sabres counterattack Didn't exist in Game 3
Shot-blocking Mutombo would be proud of The Stars are the best in the game at it
Football-style tailgating Leave it to Bills fans to do it right
Sabres' faithful Once inside the rink, they formed a sea of red shirts chanting Let's Go BUF-a-LO -- it's catchy
No excuses Stars' motto appropriate reflection of head coach
Stu Barnes Only plus player on the Sabres in Game 3.
Miroslav Satan Should sell his soul for a few scoring chances

 
Related information
Stories
Day at a Glance: Mo & GoalieGate
Stars beat Sabres 2-1, take 2-1 series lead
Modano plays; Hull goes down
Winner's dressing room: No excuses for the Stars
Closer look: Nieuwendyk's line clicking
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