Originally created 05/30/99

Sabres drop Maple Leafs

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- If Dominik Hasek's groin injury is bothering him, nobody can tell.

For the second straight game, the Buffalo Sabres protected their star goalie with dogged checking, and Geoff Sanderson scored twice to key a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

Sanderson's goals highlighted a four-goal second period as the Sabres sent the Maple Leafs to the brink of elimination in the Eastern Conference finals.

The victory, Buffalo's seventh straight at home without a loss in the playoffs, gave the Sabres a 3-1 lead in the series, which resumes Monday night in Toronto. The Sabres are one win away from making the Stanley Cup finals for only the second time since the team entered the NHL in 1970.

Buffalo put the game out of reach when its relentless attack forced the Toronto defense into mistake after mistake in front of beleaguered goalie Curtis Joseph.

The Maple Leafs rebounded from 2-1 deficits to win the previous two series, against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but this time their luck may have run out.

Leading 1-0 on a short-handed goal by Dixon Ward late in the first period, the Sabres rallied in the second just like they did in their 4-2 win in Game 3.

Brian Holzinger began the barrage at 2:51, intercepting a bad cross-ice pass by Toronto's Steve Sullivan in the slot and beating Joseph between his pads.

Rob Ray, inserted in the lineup for some toughness after Thursday night's game ended in a melee, made it 3-0 at 5:04 with a nifty backhand deflection at waist level off a centering pass from Stu Barnes.

Sanderson scored his first goal of the game just 22 seconds later, converting the rebound of a shot by Miroslav Satan. He struck again at 14:10 on a shot from the slot, and that was it.

The first Toronto goal came on a penalty shot by Mats Sundin at 6:59 of the third period. He beat Hasek with a rising shot that went into the right corner just under the crossbar. Sundin scored the other Toronto goal on a power play at 18:03 in front of Hasek.

Hasek, who made 31 saves, was rarely tested. He won Game 3 after sitting out the first two games with an injured groin.

The Sabres, as they did Thursday night, dominated the first period. The Maple Leafs did not even come close to getting a shot at Hasek for the first five minutes as the Sabres clamped down with their checking.

Joseph, meanwhile, was busy making 12 saves at the other end, many of them brilliant. He stopped a bid by Michael Peca in the first minute and a hard drive by Erik Rasmussen from the slot two minutes later.

Joseph also robbed Ward midway through the period. Ward, all alone in the right circle, fired a shot at the screened Joseph, but he snared it at the goalpost with his big catching glove to preserve the scoreless tie.

When Kevyn Adams rammed Hasek at 12:53, it seemed the game might deteriorate into a penalty-filled affair, especially when Hasek was whistled for interfering with Mike Johnson behind the Buffalo net less than two minutes later.

That gave Toronto its first good chance to score the important first goal. But with the Maple Leafs pressing the attack on the ensuing power play, the opportunistic Sabres struck for their second short-handed goal in two games.

Sergei Berezin tried to stop a Buffalo clearing pass at the right point, but the puck deflected off his stick into center ice. Ward scooped it up in full flight, skated in hard on right wing and beat Joseph through his legs with a low drive at 16:15. It couldn't have turned out much better for Hasek -- he was credited with an assist on the play.

The loss was another harsh setback for Joseph, whose often spectacular goaltending during his first season with the Maple Leafs had been credited for allowing the younger players on the team to develop more quickly. He was always there to atone for their mistakes, but not on this night.

Joseph, who was relieved by Glenn Healy to start the third period, finished with 22 saves.


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