In what was supposed to feature a matchup of superstars, rookie goaltender Johan Hedberg stole the show, guiding the Penguins to a 3-0 victory in Game One of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Hedberg was spectacular in making 25 saves. He preserved a 1-0 lead with 13 stops in the second period and turned aside six apiece in the first and third for his second shutout of the playoffs.
"I felt pretty good today," the 27-year-old Hedberg said. "It's hard to compare games. I felt really good with the guys in front of me."
It was only the 16th NHL appearance for Hedberg, who has heard a chant of "Moose" in home games after playing for the Manitoba Moose of the International Hockey League earlier this season.
"He did the same thing tonight he did last series," Sabres left wing Dave Andreychuk said. "He squares up the puck, he sees it, he is in position to save it. He's got good quickness."
Hedberg was not considered the featured goalie of the series. That honor went to Dominik Hasek, known as "The Dominator" throughout a career that includes five Vezina Trophies.
"It's a great challenge for me to have Hasek on the other side," Hedberg said. "I know it's gonna be as tight a series as the first one."
Hedberg allowed only 10 goals in a six-game win over Washington in the conference quarterfinals. He had played only nine NHL games before the playoffs, going 7-1-1 to close the regular season.
"This is something I've been working for my whole life," said Hedberg, who was acquired from San Jose at the trade deadline. "When I came here, I didn't know if I could play in the NHL or not."
He wasn't alone. Some of his teammates didn't even know who he was.
"I had never heard of him in my entire life," said teammate Wayne Primeau, who scored against his former club. "He's kind of been thrown right in the fire. He's calm, cool and collected. Nothing seems to faze him."
Not even a matchup with Hasek, who fell behind early on a goal by Mario Lemieux and gave up two more over the game's final six minutes.
This was the first postseason contest between Lemieux and Hasek, two of the greatest players in NHL history. Lemieux had a goal and an assist and Hasek made 29 saves.
Pittsburgh's other superstar -- right wing Jaromir Jagr -- made a brilliant pass on the game's first goal but missed the third period due to a mysterious injury.
"I really don't know," coach Ivan Hlinka said. "He got some charley horse or something."
The Penguins scored 5:07 into the game. Jagr drew a pair of defenders in the neutral zone at the left boards and backhanded a pass into Buffalo's end, hitting Lemieux in stride.
Lemieux, who had just jumped off the bench on a line change, skated in alone on Hasek and beat him with a short-side slap shot from just above the right hashmark.
"It was a great play by Jagr," said Lemieux, who has 75 goals in 96 postseason games. "He had the puck at center ice. Four guys followed him, he dropped it back and I walked in all alone, hit the post and it went in."
"When you want to give Mario the blue line in to tee it up, I give him three out of four, he's gonna score," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.
After the opening goal, the Penguins did not need Jagr. They rode the play of Hedberg before Jan Hrdina and Primeau scored 3:38 apart late in the game.
Meanwhile, the Sabres could not duplicate the effort of their last game -- an 8-0 win over Philadelphia on Saturday.
"I thought, the first period, our puck movement was poor, which is typical with time off," Ruff said. "The second period, we came around and had some great opportunities, but we weren't on top of our game."
The Sabres had a number of great chances but were either stopped by Hedberg or a goalpost. Miroslav Satan hit the post just 1:30 into the game and Maxim Afinogenov missed a half-empty net with 6:56 left.
Hrdina made it 2-0 with 5:58 to play, batting in a rebound of Josef Beranek's shot from the bottom of the left faceoff circle for his second goal of the postseason.
"I just tried to go to the net," Hrdina said. "The rebound was right there. I just put it in."
Primeau sealed it with 2:20 left. He skated into the zone on a 2-on-1 with Lemieux, who passed from right to left for Primeau's wrist shot from the circle.
"He's the greatest in this game," Primeau said of Lemieux. "He made a great pass on the stick. All I had to do was shoot it."
That was more than enough for Hedberg, who made a sensational reaction save midway through the final period. James Patrick had pinched in from the point but was denied by Hedberg's glove.
"I tried to get it up as high as I could," Patrick said. "I thought I did get some height on it. Whether I shot it right in his glove or he made a great sve, give him credit on that one, that's for sure."