We’re happy to announce the return of our Flashbacks series, where we look back at different moments, games, players and trades in Sabres history. To kick things off in spirit of the Conference Finals, we go back to the playoff series against the Washington Capitals in 1998.
HASEK LEADS THE WAY
The 1997-98 Buffalo Sabres were a team led by superstar goaltender Dominik Hasek, who not only won the Hart Trophy as league MVP, but also led the Czech Republic to a stunning gold-medal win at the 1998 Olympics.
Hasek had an incredible 13 shutouts to lead the league that season.
The Sabres as a team ranked third in goals allowed, but lacked any major scoring threats other than Miroslav Satan and Michael Peca. The defense was solid with veterans Alexei Zhitnik, Darryl Shannon and Jason Woolley.
After winning the Northeast Division in 1997, the Sabres had a slow start to Lindy Ruff’s first season, heading into December with a 7-12-5 record. But from December 31st on, the Sabres finished the season 22-10-11, bringing them to a final record of 36-29-17, good for sixth in the Eastern Conference.
|1997-98 Regular Season Stats||POS||GP||G||A||P||+/-||PIM|
In the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Sabres made quick work of the Philadelphia Flyers, winning in five games, then sweeping the Montreal Canadians to set up a matchup with the Capitals.
KOLZIG CARRIES CAPS
Washington was similar to Buffalo, led by their own stud goalie, Olaf Kolzig. The Capitals, though, had a deeper lineup led by veteran players like Dale Hunter, Adam Oates, Joe Juneau and current Sabres head coach Phil Housley.
They had a little bit more firepower up front with 50-goal scorer Peter Bondra, too. Washington faced a stiffer challenge in the first round against the Boston Bruins, needing six games and two overtime wins to move on. Against the upstart Ottawa Senators, which was playing in only its’ third playoff series ever, Kolzig limited the Senators to seven goals in five games including a pair of shutouts.
For the Sabres, this was their first Conference Final appearance since 1980, and for the Capitals it was their first since 1990.
Game 1 saw a relatively lackluster game that had a total of just 39 shots, with the Sabres netting two goals in the second period. That was the only scoring as they held on to win, 2-0.
Game 2, however, saw both teams open up a bit more with 72 shots combined. The Sabres needed a Matthew Barnaby goal with 57 seconds remaining to tie the game and force overtime.
Hasek was superb in the game, stopping 36 of 39 shots, but Buffalo wasn’t able to take a 2-0 series lead home. The Capitals won the game in the first overtime thanks to a goal by Todd Krygier off a one-timer in front to tie the series at one.
The series moved back to Buffalo, where Sabres fans got to see the Stanley Cup and take pictures with it locally before game. Game 3 turned out to be the pivotal game of the series.
The first period saw the Capitals jump out to a 2-1 lead with goals from Bondra and Richard Zednik (yes, the same one who got his neck cut 10 years later) while Buffalo’s Donald Audette got the Sabres goal.
Buffalo responded with goals by Barnaby and Brian Holzinger to tie the game at 3. The third period was scoreless and the game shifted to overtime. Buffalo had the better of the chances in overtime, but a turnover at the Washington blueline gave Bondra a wide open lane and he buried a slap shot to win the game, 4-3. This was the first time all playoffs Buffalo was down in a series, and they wasted two of their better efforts in games 2 and 3.
Buffalo tried to respond in Game 4 to tie the series, but Kolzig became a major problem. Buffalo out shot Washington 30-19, but with two Capitals goals in the third and Kolzig’s superb performance, the Sabres lost again at home.
With their backs against the wall, Game 5 was a classic Hasek performance as he stopped 34 of 35 shots to lead the Sabres to a 2-1 victory. Buffalo was out played throughout, but managed two goals on just 16 shots to take the series back to Buffalo, down 3-2.
Back at home for game 6, the first period was scoreless. The Sabres took the lead midway through the second with a goal from Peca, but relinquished it just 22 seconds later when Esa Tikkanen tied it for the Capitals.
Seven minutes into the 3rd period, Paul Kruse put Buffalo up, 2-1, with a chance to force game 7 back in Washington.
Unfortunately, Buffalo failed to hold the lead as Bondra tortured the Sabres again, tying the game on the power play with just under six minutes to go. Each team traded chances until the 3rd period finished, forcing another overtime game.
The Sabres failed to convert on a few chances early and Washington’s Joe Juneau ended the series, scoring off a rebound to send the Capitals to their first Cup Final ever.
It was a disappointing outcome for Sabres fans, especially given the fact that they dropped all three overtime games, any of which would’ve given them game 7. Kolzig’s play in games 4 and 6 really made life that much more difficult for a Sabres team that lacked scoring and was down in the series.
|Game 1||May 23rd||Buffalo 2, Washington 0|
|Game 2||May 25th||Buffalo 2, Washington 3 (OT)|
|Game 3||May 28th||Washington 4, Buffalo 3 (OT)|
|Game 4||May 30th||Washington 2, Buffalo 0|
|Game 5||June 2nd||Buffalo 2, Washington 1|
|Game 6||June 4th||Washington 3, Buffalo 2 (OT)|
But Buffalo built off this loss, and the next season broke through to the team’s second Cup Final ever against the Dallas Stars. For Sabres fans it was the longest run they had seen in nearly 20 years and gave many memorable moments to fans. This series against the Capitals will always be remembered for a new generation of fans as the first time they really had hope for the Cup, despite the pain of just missing out at the end.