Sabres still seething over ruling on Hull's goal
Posted: Tuesday June 22, 1999 08:11 PM
BUFFALO, New York (CNN/SI) -- The NHL hoped for a competitive, dramatic Stanley Cup finals and got it. But the League also got something it didn't need: a possibly tainted title.
Brett Hull's goal at 14:51 of the third overtime gave the Dallas Stars a Cup-clinching 2-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres early Sunday morning and ended the second-longest Stanley Cup finals game ever.
It also started the biggest finals controversy in many years. Several Sabres said the Game 6 finish will haunt them -- and, they said, the NHL -- for years because Hull's left skate was in the goal crease before he shot.
"I believe everybody will remember this as the Stanley Cup that was never won in 1999," the Sabres' Joe Juneau said. "It was given away to a good team, but the goal was not a legal goal."
Hasek stopped the puck, but the rebound bounced out to Hull during a furious scramble at the goal mouth. Hull's first shot also was rejected, but he poked at the puck again and slipped it into the net.
Game over. Controversy beginning.
Players can play a puck in the crease, but only if it arrives there before they do.
"I don't know if we'll ever be able to put this behind us for the rest of our lives," Jay McKee of the Sabres said. "This is what we all dreamed to do and the situation to be in and, now, it's gone."
The debate isn't. NHL officials supervisor Bryan Lewis said Hull's goal counted because he maintained possession of the puck from the time he played it beyond the crease.
"A puck that rebounds off the goalie, the goal post, an opposing player is not deemed to be a change of possession," Lewis said. "Therefore, Hull would be deemed to be in control of the puck, allowed to shoot and score a goal, even though the one foot would be in the crease in advance of the puck."
Still, the rules application seemed to violate the spirit of the NHL's no-tolerance policy on goal crease violations.
So many games were delayed this season for video reviews, and enough goals were wiped out by crease infractions, that the NHL's Board of Governors could vote as early as this week to relax the rule. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman hinted strongly he wants the rule relaxed.
Harry Sinden of the Boston Bruins said the topic created so much debate at last week's general managers meetings that if any GM didn't know how to curse, he does now.
Many general managers feel the rule penalizes teams for minor infractions that often have nothing to do with a play, much like a hitter whose home run is taken away because his toe is outside the batter's box.
"But it's over and it will be the story for a long time," the Sabres' Michael Peca said.
The rule interpretation creates yet again the perception that the NHL often governs itself by the seat of the pants rather than a set of rules. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff wasn't convinced the goal was reviewed by the video replay judge and other NHL officials, although Lewis said it was.
"I really think that if we had scored a goal like that, it would have been called back," Juneau said. "I think because it was a goal that gave them the Stanley Cup, everybody jumped on the ice and they were afraid to make the call."
Still, there is no dispute the Stars are worthy champions. The Stars and the 1994 New York Rangers are the only teams in the 1990s to win the regular-season Presidents' Trophy and Stanley Cup in the same season.
They limited the Sabres to a record-low nine goals in six games and only four goals over nearly 12 periods in the final four games. Only one Sabres forward, Stu Barnes, scored more than one goal, and 40-goal scorer Miroslav Satan was shut out.
The Stars had stars aplenty, too, in the first Stanley Cup finals since 1994 that didn't end in a four-game sweep.
Goaltender Ed Belfour made 53 saves in Game 6 and, by outplaying Hasek, shed forever the tag of not being a big-game goaltender. Hull played the final two games on a left knee that needs reconstructive surgery and with two shredded groin muscles.
"We thought two shifts before he scored he was done for the night," Hitchcock said.
Joe Nieuwendyk had six game-winning playoff goals and won the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the playoffs MVP. Jere Lehtinen had 10 goals, including the other Stars goal in Game 6. Defenseman Derian Hatcher and Richard Matvichuk shut down any forwards who dared challenge them in front of the net.
But as the Stars wearily climbed onto their bus at 4:20 a.m. Sunday and headed to the airport, they entrusted Belfour with the biggest prize of all - the Stanley Cup.
"He would not allow us to lose," Hitchcock said.
Even if some Sabres argued the Stars didn't really win.
When Ruff confronted Bettman and demanded an explanation for the crease call, the coach said he received none.
"Really, he just turned his back on me," Ruff said. "He almost looked to me like he knew this might be a tainted goal and there was no answer for it."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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