The Stars' quest for the Stanley Cup last night had fans heading to sports bars or friends' homes because of ESPN's decision to keep the game off local television.

ESPN, which holds exclusive rights to Game 6 of the series between the Stars and Sabres, refused an NHL request to make the telecast available to a local station so fans not hooked up to cable could watch.

The network told local stations yesterday, however, that it would allow them to carry the last 30 seconds of the game and the Stanley Cup presentation if it appeared Dallas would win. At least one station said it would carry the feed. Only 52 percent of homes with televisions in the Dallas-Fort Worth area subscribe to cable, the lowest of any major market in the nation. In Buffalo, 76 percent of television homes are wired.

ESPN spokeswoman Diane Lamb said the network has an obligation to its cable operators and subscribers who pay for such exclusive programming.

The Stars are not happy.

"I sit in these NHL meetings all the time, and all they say is, `Grow the game,' " said Jeff Cogen, the Stars' vice president of marketing and promotions. "ESPN is taking a very single-minded, myopic view."

1999 Stanley Cup Finals

Buffalo Sabres vs. Dallas Stars


Stars lead series, 3-2

Game 1: Buffalo 3, at Dallas 2 (OT)

Game 2: at Dallas 4, Buffalo 2

Game 3: Dallas 2, at Buffalo 1

Game 4: at Buffalo 2, Dallas 1

Game 5: at Dallas 2, Buffalo 0

Game 6: Dallas at Buffalo, late

Game 7*: Buffalo at Dallas, Tuesday,

8 p.m., WTTG-5, WBFF-45

*if necessary

CAPTION: Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek dives to make a save in the first period of Game 6 in Buffalo. Jere Lehtinen gave Dallas a 1-0 lead at 8:09 of the first period.(Photo ran in an earlier edition)