Do or die
Sabres' backs to boards for Game 6 of low-scoring series
Posted: Friday June 18, 1999 09:22 PM
In the most competitive Stanley Cup title round since 1994 and the lowest-scoring one in almost a half-century, the Sabres are one loss from elimination.
Game 6 -- either the Sabres' last home game or their last game of the season, period -- is Saturday night at Marine Midland Arena. The Sabres are 8-1 at home in the playoffs, but that loss came in Game 3 to Dallas.
"We are a confident team in our building and our players believe they will be back for Game 7," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said after the Stars seized a 3-2 lead by winning 2-0 Thursday in Dallas.
But in a series where the Stars' relentless defense has been more dominant than the Dominator, allowing Buffalo almost no room to skate and no room to score, the Sabres have no margin of error.
Unless the Sabres can find a way to score on the power play, where they are 0-for-17 since late in Game 3, or simply score at all -- they have three goals in three games -- the Stars may soon be shining the Stanley Cup.
As if things weren't bad enough, Buffalo lost defenseman Rhett Warrener for the rest of the series. He broke an ankle in a scuffle in the closing moments of Thursday night's game.
More bad news for Buffalo, a city still not recovered from the Bills' four consecutive Super Bowl losses: No team since Montreal in 1971 has rallied from a 3-2 deficit to win the Stanley Cup.
If the Sabres don't, the Stars will become the first Sun Belt team to win a Stanley Cup.
"But, absolutely, we expect to win," Sabres forward Dixon Ward said. "I'm not going to guarantee anything, but we are going to go out with full intention. We are going to give everything we've got to win it."
The Sabres' trouble is they've expended almost every ounce of energy so far, yet have averaged only a goal per game since Game 2. And their top regular-season scorer, Miroslav Satan, doesn't have a goal in the finals.
Dallas' oversized defense is overpowering the Sabres' power play. And the one edge that Buffalo usually counts upon, goaltender Dominik Hasek, can't steal games since so few goals are being scored.
Hasek isn't exactly being dominated by Ed Belfour, who once played ahead of him in Chicago. But Hasek isn't outplaying Belfour, as both goaltenders have goal-against averages below 2.00 - the first time that's happened in the finals since 1945.
Belfour's playoff goals-against average is 1.76; Hasek's is 1.85.
Belfour stopped 23 shots Thursday in his seventh career playoff shutout and third this season. He is only a victory away from ending forever the talk he's not a big-game goaltender.
"Eddie's just played tremendous. They've come after him, but he's really proved himself," Pat Verbeek said.
Buffalo has home-ice advantage Saturday but teams seem to play better the closer they get to winning the cup. For example, the last four teams that won Game 5 to take a 3-2 edge won the cup in Game 6.
The Stars themselves are aware of the dangers of trailing 3-2.
In 1991, as the Minnesota North Stars, they were extremely confident heading back home despite losing Game 5 in Pittsburgh, only to get blitzed by the Penguins 8-0.
"But we know we haven't won anything yet," said Darryl Sydor, whose power-play goal put Dallas up 1-0 Thursday.
Coach Ken Hitchcock agreed, saying, "I just think this thing is up for grabs right to the end. I see no reason that the next game is going to be anything different."
Still, there's another intangible: Dallas' steel-edged will to win, one that borders on obsession. Several Stars, including forwards Mike Modano (wrist), Benoit Hogue (knee) and Brett Hull (groin and, possibly, ribs) are playing hurt. Really hurt.
Modano may or may not have a fractured wrist. Hogue needs reconstructive knee surgery and is risking the rest of his career by playing. Hull wore a flak jacket in Game 5, creating suspicion his groin injury may have shifted a little to the north.
"This is what you wait for your whole life, to play in the Stanley Cup finals," Hogue said. "I wouldn't miss this."
One more loss, and the Sabres will.
"In this locker room, we know we need to win the next two games and we've done it many times during the regular season," Hasek said. "We have to win the next game."
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