Brett Hull's right skate was in the crease. Anybody can check the replay and clearly see it for themselves. Officials said the goal was legal. The Sabres wanted a review but didn't get one.
And just like that, the Dallas Stars won the Stanley Cup. It came 14:51 into the third overtime when Hull pulled the puck out of the crease and stuffed it past Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek to give Dallas a 2-1 victory in Game Six early this morning.
The Sabres will forever believe the Stars' win was tainted, adding even more sting to one of the most disappointing losses in team history. The Stars didn't care after waltzing around Marine Midland Arena with the Cup over their heads.
"Somebody should have called from upstairs and said, 'This is not a goal.' All I wanted was a review," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "I wanted (NHL Commissioner Gary) Bettman to answer the question of why this wasn't reviewed. He turned his back on me. It was almost as if he knew this goal was tainted."
The Stars celebrated amid boos from fans who also saw the replay. Had the goal been called back and the Sabres won, it would have forced Game Seven on Tuesday night.
We'll never know.
The rule has been a topic of dispute for the last two years. A player is not allowed to have any part of his body in the crease unless the puck is in the crease. In a television interview, referee in chief Bryan Lewis downplayed the controversy, claiming Hull had continuous possession of the puck.
"It was our worst nightmare," Ruff said. "The puck comes out of the crease. You can't explain this one to me."
Hull won a scrum in front of the Sabres' net and poked in Mike Modano's rebound as Hasek was sprawled across the ice. It was the second-longest game in Stanley Cup finals history.
For the Sabres, it ends a remarkable run to the finals for the second time in franchise history. The Sabres also lost the Cup in six games to the Philadelphia Flyers in 1975.
These are the losses that hurt the most.
What other than a kick that went wide right can be so painful for Buffalo fans than a controversial goal in the third overtime with the Sabres on the brink of forcing a Game Seven in the Cup finals?
Still, this was one of the greatest games in Sabres' history. The exhausted players left the ice to a standing ovation.
It certainly is the biggest win in the Stars' annals. Goalie Ed Belfour made 53 saves and earned the first Cup in his career. The 54 shots against the Stars were the most by the Sabres in the playoffs this season.
"I haven't even seen the goal," said Joe Nieuwendyk, who won the Conn Smythe as the playoff MVP. "I'm just thrilled to death that it's over. I don't know if there's a controversy. It's over now. We've got the Cup."
Stu Barnes' goal late in the second period tied the game and set up an intense third, fourth, fifth and sixth periods. For a while, it appeared Hasek would be the goat of the contest for allowing Jere Lehtinen's bad -- really bad -- goal in the first.
But it seemed the 18,595 fans stuffed into Marine Midland Arena couldn't imagine The Dominator allowing another one.
James Patrick almost ended the game 2:16 into the second overtime when his slap shot beat Belfour and ricocheted off the crossbar. Pat Verbeek nearly did the same for Dallas when he was stopped by Hasek about seven minutes later trying to stuff in a rebound.
Erik Rasmussen had a chance in the first OT when his soft wrist shot deflected off defenseman Derian Hatcher's stick before Belfour made the save. The Sabres outshot the Stars, 6-4, in the first OT.
It could have ended in the third period had Miroslav Satan's shot found the net instead of the post with about six minutes remaining. The Sabres would not have been tied in the first place had Alexei Zhitnik or Michael Peca not hit the post in the second period.
Ruff said before the game he wished it could be played without officials. His request was granted. Judging by the four penalties called by referees Terry Gregson and Bill McCreary, one would think it was cleaner than a Disney flick. Basically, anything less than manslaughter wasn't going to get called.
Game Six followed the tone set in the first five. Both teams were trying to top the other with every hit. There was good goaltending, few mistakes and enough drama for a television miniseries. This is what the NHL had in mind when it decided in 1939 to have the two finalists play best-of-seven.
The series was close from the beginning, largely because both teams were committed to playing good, disciplined defense in front of solid goaltending. Nobody was surprised it went into overtime. Few were shocked it went into a second OT. Then the third . . .
The Sabres and Stars went into the game either tied or a goal apart 98 percent of the time, the second-closest such margin for the Cup finals. Hasek and Belfour were the first goalies since 1945 to have a goals-against average below 2.00.
Buffalo dominated through the first three periods like never before in this series and probably should have been won in regulation by three goals. Instead, they went into a third overtime in a 1-1 tie and a hero awaiting them.
Barnes' goal with 1:39 remaining in the second period was the reward for how well the Sabres played in the first two periods. He broke Belfour's shutout streak at 130 minutes, 44 seconds -- or more than 2 1/2 games -- when he scored on a slap shot from the right circle.
Dallas had just 16 shots through the first 40 minutes. Still haunting the Sabres was perhaps the softest goal Hasek allowed this season. This time, The Dominator had no excuse -- not for giving up such a bad goal in a game of this magnitude.
Lehtinen took a pass from Modano and moved around Darryl Shannon, but the Stars' winger was virtually out of the play -- or so Hasek must have thought.
Lehtinen, standing about 15 feet to the side of the net, flipped a harmless shot toward the Buffalo goal. Hasek inexplicably moved his right pad away from the post, and Lehtinen's shot bounced off his leg and found the hole 8:09 into the game.
Hasek shook his head in disbelief. Western New York shook its head in disbelief. The good thing for Hasek was he still had time to avenge the error. All he needed was some help from his teammates.The Sabres had chances to score on several of their 11 shots in the first period. Of course, the fact they did not capitalize on any of them was not surprising, considering the direction this series had been going in the previous game.