The Buffalo Sabres threw their best offensive at the Dallas Stars in Game Six of the Stanley Cup finals. It just wasn't good enough.
The Sabres put on their best attack of the series in a 2-1, triple-overtime loss to the Stars early this morning. Buffalo had 54 shots in the game, by far its highest total of the series. It had 32 in the first 60 minutes of play. The previous high in the series was 24 back in Game One, and even that figure was inflated by overtime.
"I said Friday we would play our best game of the series, and we did. They gave it everything they had," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.
The Sabres didn't have much to show for their offensive efforts, but no one was expecting many shots to go in under any circumstances. Both goalies, Ed Belfour of Dallas and Dominik Hasek of Buffalo, were brilliant throughout the series. This ranked as one of the lowest-scoring finals in history, and was also one of the most competitive. Game Six was icing on those cakes.
Buffalo figured to show a bit of a spark at the start of the game -- considering it was one loss away from a summer vacation -- and it did. Ruff came out with some new combinations for his lines. This time Curtis Brown centered for Geoff Sanderson and Stu Barnes, while Brian Holzinger was between Joe Juneau and Miroslav Satan.
Buffalo had a territorial edge in the first several minutes, and that's why Jere Lehtinen's goal came as something of a surprise. However, Buffalo had a couple of good chances late in the period. Belfour made a good stop on Juneau in the 15th minute, and two minutes later Erik Rasmussen came close to jamming home a loose puck in the slot.
However, all of that good work in the first 20 minutes went for nothing. It was the fifth consecutive full period in which the Sabres hadn't scored. Their regular-season high was four, set back in October.
The second period might have been the Sabres' best 20 minutes of offense in the series. Buffalo finally established a forecheck, keeping the Stars' defense occupied for long stretches at a time. The Sabres did that by winning a higher percentage of one-on-one battles along the boards. In addition, Buffalo had some skating room for the first time since the Toronto series. Several Sabres were able to carry the puck through the neutral zone and into Dallas territory.
However, all of that good work resulted in no goals. Finally, Barnes and Wayne Primeau found space in the Dallas zone, and Barnes beat Belfour from about 15 feet to tie the game. It was Buffalo's first goal in 130 minutes, 44 seconds.
The Sabres and Stars, who hadn't played firewagon hockey for much of the series, became even more conservative in the third period. Still, Buffalo had some good chances to win the game. Juneau was wide on a shot from 25 feet, Primeau got a good shot on goal from the slot in traffic, and Vaclav Varada just missed batting home a floating puck that sailed across the slot.
By the time the final five minutes of the third period arrived, offense wasn't on most people's mind. Both teams started to play as if they didn't want to give up the game-winning goal.
Neither team had even a shot on goal for almost eight minutes of the first overtime. Satan had the first of the period; Belfour made a relatively easy save.
The Sabres' best chance of overtime might have been when Sanderson broke into the Dallas zone by using his speed. He set up Zhitnik for a slap shot that just missed the corner.
Buffalo went back to an aggressive style at the start of the second overtime. James Patrick nailed a shot from the right point that hit the crossbar and deflected harmlessly away at 2:16. They ran up three shots on goal in the first three minutes of period five.Both teams were too tired to do much after that. Finally, at around 1:30 this morning in the sixth overtime, the Sabres gave up the winning goal to Dallas' Brett Hull.