Dominik Hasek gave the Buffalo Sabres a chance to win and former Washington Capitals defenseman Jason Woolley delivered the game-winning goal in overtime, lifting Buffalo to a 3-2 victory over the favored Dallas Stars tonight in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals.
On the winning play, Woolley came off the bench, skated unchecked into the high slot, took a pass from teammate Curtis Brown and one-timed a shot that went through a screen and between goalie Ed Belfour's pads 15 minutes 30 seconds into sudden-death overtime.
"Coming off the bench, I think I snuck up on them a little bit," said Woolley, who played for the Capitals from 1992 to 1994. "In overtime, you just want to shoot. I got lucky and it went in.
"I didn't really know it went in at first," Woolley added. "I didn't know how to react after I saw it went in. . . . It's a great feeling personally, but we're a long way from being done."
Dallas had forced overtime on Jere Lehtinen's goal with 48.3 seconds left in regulation.
Game 2 will be here Thursday before the best-of-seven series goes to Buffalo for two games.
Woolley's fourth goal of the playoffs capped a wild game in which Dallas dominated for two periods but managed just one goal against Hasek, the four-time winner of the Vezina Trophy given to the league's best goalie.
"He made some tremendous saves for us," Sabres captain Michael Peca said.
After Stu Barnes and Wayne Primeau scored five minutes apart in the third period, the latter with 6:23 remaining, Buffalo had a 2-1 lead.
Dallas failed to score on a power play after Primeau's goal, the Stars' eighth man-advantage of the game, but with 1:20 remaining and an offensive-zone faceoff, Coach Ken Hitchcock pulled Belfour for a sixth skater. The move paid off when, chasing after a dump-in, Modano checked Peca, and Peca's stick got caught in the small gap between the boards. Modano quickly passed to Lehtinen just to the left of the slot, and Lehtinen quickly tapped it into the far side of the goal under Hasek's outstretched glove.
For much of the game, it appeared the Stars would not need any heroics. Through two periods, they held a 23-9 advantage in shots, controlled the play and looked ready to pull away. But Hasek was up to the task -- he also received some favorable bounces off goal posts -- and the Sabres' penalty-killing units killed off six consecutive Dallas power plays after Brett Hull's power-play goal gave the Stars a 1-0 lead at 10:17 of the first period.
Among the Stars' other chances was a rebound shot by Hull during a four-minute power play late in the first period. The shot bounced off Hasek's arm, hit the post and rolled along the goal line behind Hasek until a defenseman cleared it. In the second period, Joe Nieuwendyk's shot slid under Hasek, hit the post and caromed across the goal mouth.
"The chances we missed came back to haunt us," Hitchcock said.
Buffalo played noticeably better in the third period and finally broke through at 11:27 on Barnes's fifth goal in six games.
After Barnes was knocked down in front of the goal, referee Bill McCreary raised his arm to signal a delayed penalty. With Hasek on the bench for a sixth skater, Buffalo maintained possession of the puck. Richard Smehlik's backhanded shot from the slot missed just wide, but former Capital Joe Juneau controlled the rebound and skated into the left circle. He waited patiently, then found Barnes alone in the slot. Barnes quickly wristed a one-timer off the ice past defenseman Daryl Sydor and Belfour, who had dropped down, and into the goal.
Five minutes later, Primeau gave the Sabres a 2-1 lead with a power-play goal. Cleared to play this week by team doctors after missing the team's past two playoff games because of a bruised knee, Primeau backhanded a rebound over Belfour with 6:23 left.
"It is pretty easy to get outplayed when we take a lot of penalties and are short-handed," Buffalo Coach Lindy Ruff said. "I think you saw in the third period, when we stayed out of the [penalty] box we took the game away and we got stronger."
After killing off two penalties in overtime, Buffalo nearly won the game when Dallas forward Brian Skrudland inadvertently kicked a rebound off Belfour's right pad and the puck rolled along the goal line before Belfour covered it.
The play was reviewed by the NHL's video replay judge, but it was determined the puck did not completely cross the line.
CAPTION: Wayne Primeau celebrates his third-period goal with Richard Smehlik. Former Capital Jason Woolley scored game-winner 15:30 into overtime for Sabres.
CAPTION: Dallas winger Pat Verbeek and Buffalo defenseman Alexei Zhitnik crash the net during the second period of Game 1 of Stanley Cup finals. The game ended too late to be included in this edition.
CAPTION: Buffalo goaltender Dominik Hasek covers up shot by Dallas's Guy Carbonneau in second period. Seven of Hasek's 35 saves came in overtime.