BUFFALO, New York, AP
Dominik Hasek sees only one certainty in the second-round playoff series between the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins. “Only one of us can move forward,” Hasek said Wednesday. “Only one can do it. I will try to do anything to win four games.” The series, which begins Thursday night, pairs the offensively potent Penguins against the stifling Sabres, who led the NHL in fewest goals allowed. And it matches two of the game’s greats — prolific scorer Mario Lemieux vs. puck stopper Hasek — both driven by the aspiration to win a championship. “I’m sure for him (winning the Stanley Cup) is as big as it is for me,” Hasek said.
“He came back for two reasons. One is he wants to prove that he’s still the top player in the NHL, which he proved already. And the other goal is to win back the Stanley Cup for the organization. “It’s the same approach, his and mine.” Much talk leading up to Game 1 has focused on how the Sabres will stop Lemieux and how the Penguins can beat Hasek. “We have to shoot and go to the net and look for deflections,” said Pittsburgh’s Jaromir Jagr, who won his fourth regular-season scoring title.
“That’s always the easiest goal. If you shoot, you never know.” Lemieux, all too well, knows the frustrations of facing Hasek, having only beaten him three times. “When you think you’ve got him beat, he throws and arm, a pad in there and makes the unbelievable save,” Lemieux said. “You never know what he’s going to do.” The same can be said about Lemieux, who has an uncanny presence to put himself into scoring position. “You always have to know where he is on the ice, no doubt,” Hasek said. “When he’s open, he can shoot, he can pass, he’s a complete player.” Hasek is coming off a solid season, finishing fourth in the NHL with a 2.11 goals-against average and a league-leading 11 shutouts. Not bad for someone who considered retiring a year ago, changing his mind only after he missed half of the 1999-00 season with a groin injury. As much as he’s looking forward to playing in next year’s Olympics, where the Czech Republic will be the defending gold medalist, it was the draw of the Stanley Cup that brought Hasek back. The Sabres hold a one-year option on whether to re-sign him for dlrs 9 million, but Hasek has said he would gladly retire after winning a cup for Buffalo.