Sabres get jump on Caps, take opener, 2-0 Goalie Hasek deflects first-period barrage as Buffalo cruises to win


WASHINGTON -- If this was a normal hockey game, the Washington Capitals would have been away like a shot the way Adam Oates was setting up his teammates for almost certain goals in the first 20 minutes of play last night.

But normal games aren't played in late May, not when the Capitals are playing the Buffalo Sabres in the Eastern Conference finals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and Dominik Hasek is in goal.

No doubt a bit frustrated and/or intimidated when a trio of golden scoring opportunities were swallowed up by Hasek in the first period, the Caps lapsed badly in the first two minutes of the middle period. The resulting two goals were all the Sabres needed to draw first blood in this best-of-seven game series, 2-0.

Michael Grosek gave the Sabres the lead by innocently hammering the puck to the boards in back of the Cap's Olie Kolzig and off to the goaltender's left. Grosek then made a great play by outhustling two Caps to the puck and, from a sharp angle about 20 feet out, slipped it between Kolzig and the post on the short side.

It was a shot that should have been stopped, especially the way "Olie the Goalie" has been playing. But it was the first shot after intermission, just 31 seconds after play had resumed.

Less than a minute and a half later, a huge communication gaff in the Washington goal presented the visitors with their second score.

Kolzig had stopped a shot as Miroslav Satan slid feet first on his stomach past the goal. The puck was laying in the crease, Kolzig and defenseman Brendan Witt not sure what to do with it.

Satan did. Buffalo's left wing reached back and tapped it into the net from about 12 inches.

Over the next 18 minutes of the second period, the home team wasn't able to pose the threat against Hasek it had in the first period. And come the third period, forget it.

Hasek finished with 19 saves.

Buffalo allowed the fewest goals in the NHL in the third period RTC during the regular season (54 in 82 games) and lost just one game when leading after two periods. And during the playoffs, the Sabres have been even tougher, as their eight-game winning streak and 9-1 record attests.

In appeared early that the home ice was inspiring the Capitals, who shut down a pair of Buffalo power plays, allowing one shot, and were fairly flying in the offensive zone.

Among Washington's eight shots during the first period were setups from Oates to Phil Housley, Joe Juneau and Brian Bellows that found them going against Hasek one-on-one. No problem for the Czech native who had 13 shutouts during the season and a 2.00 goals-against average during the postseason.

In addition, Bondra had a good chance only to be thwarted.

The Caps could muster just six shots in the second period and four in the third period.

Buffalo, 36-29-17 during the regular season, lost just 11 of its last 53 games. It was the 12th time the Sabres have taken the first game in their past 13 playoff series.

Prior to the visitors breaking through against Kolzig early in the second period, the Caps' goalie had a playoff shutout streak of 168 minutes and 42 seconds working.

The Capitals have been outshot 11 games in a row.

Pub Date: 5/24/98

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