At the beginning of the Stanley Cup finals, the Buffalo Sabres had hoped to throw the Dallas Stars' Ed Belfour off his game, riling the temperamental goaltender to gain an emotional advantage. Right now, they'd settle for just being able to shoot on him.
The Stars blocked 19 of the Sabres' attempted shots during their 2-1 Game 3 win on Saturday, leaving Buffalo with just 12 shots on net, a franchise playoff low. The Sabres will have to find a way around all of those Dallas arms, legs and elbows if they want to improve their chances when the series resumes with Game 4 on Tuesday.
"They are as good as any team in the league at getting five guys in front of the net, and when they do get an opportunity they usually block a shot," Buffalo Coach Lindy Ruff said. "The key here is getting a shot through somehow, to get it on net and look for rebounds. I didn't think we had many flurries where we got shots through. I think in the first period they blocked nine of our shots. That eliminates a lot of offense."
Dallas Coach Ken Hitchcock joked today that some of the blocked shots came when his older players became so tired they fell down on the ice and let the pucks hit them. As for the others, he said, "Shot blocking isn't actually going to block the shot -- it's protecting a critical area. We view that as an offensive tool. If we can frustrate the opposition, make them gamble, then we can counterattack more quickly."
Buffalo did a decent job blocking shots in Game 3 as well. It stopped 14 Dallas attempts, although the Stars still managed to record 29 shots on goal.
It's slightly cooler in Buffalo than in Dallas, but that doesn't mean the ice conditions are much better. Players who complained that the ice at Dallas's Reunion Arena felt "soft" were referring to the ice at Buffalo's Marine Midland Arena as "sticky."
"After about five minutes, it turns into gristle," Stars right wing Pat Verbeek said. "It's really bad if you fall down because you just stop. It's like Velcro. You don't slide at all."
The Bane of Buffalo
Longtime Sabre Rob Ray said he feels the desperation of the Buffalo fans, whose teams have never won a major sports championship.
"If you had been here during the days when the Bills reached the Super Bowl . . . I think there was a lot of excitement built up, and when they weren't successful it was a major letdown for the city," he said.
"So I think for some of us who were here and experienced that, you know you are not only feeling the pressure of having to win for yourself and everyone in the dressing room, but everybody else when you are walking down the street. They are making such a big thing of it; there is a lot of added pressure, I think. It's something you just can't avoid because they won't allow you to avoid it."