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Miller Steals One for the Sabres

DETROIT—It’s been more than four years since Buffalo fans had to endure the sight of Dominik Hasek parading on the ice in Hockeytown with the Stanley Cup. One year after dissing Sabres fans following a storied career in Buffalo. Ah, yes…Dominik stepping up to the microphone, in his unmistakable accent, proclaiming to the world, “I am, and always will be, a Rrred Ving forever.” Take that, Buffalo.

And now Hasek is back…after stumbling through his groin pulls and other injuries with the Ottawa Senators, Hasek signed a one-year contract with the Detroit Red Wings. The old warrior seeks one more chance to sip from Lord Stanley’s Cup before hanging it up for good, and he wants to do it with the one team where he claimed his biggest success.

Last week the Sabres got a rare chance to face their old teammate in Detroit, and goaltender Martin Biron admitted that it is still a special feeling. “The first time we saw Dom in Buffalo, that first game, was the real emotional one,” said Biron. As he gestured around the locker room, Biron added, “Many of these guys weren’t here when Hasek played for us, so for them it doesn’t have that meaning.”

Hasek’s memories of his strong ties to the Sabres are also dimming. “Yes, I follow what the team is doing and am happy for the great Buffalo fans,” admitted Hasek. “But no, no, this is just another game for me. Another chance to get two points for my team and tonight we failed to do that.”

Indeed, the Buffalo Sabres were badly outplayed and looked sluggish coming out of the gate as Detroit earned a quick 2-0 lead. Perhaps it was rust after a six-day layoff. Or the distraction and concern for family and friends back home as Western New York sat paralyzed and in the dark after the freak Columbus Day snowstorm.

Many fans watching this game billed it the Miller vs. Hasek bowl. Would the whiz kid from Buffalo upend the sage old master? Could the Sabres again exact revenge on the old goalie who left Buffalo and claimed the Stanley Cup with another team?

Well, Miller put in a performance largely reminiscent of the days when Dominik Hasek would stand on his head and steal win after win for the Sabres. Shots on goal? 43-17 favoring the Red Wings. Miller was sensational during a full two-minute, two-man advantage in the second period, and again was solid during a late power play, stopping Tomas Holmstrom cold on the doorstep just as regulation time expired.

When the siren sounded indicating the end of overtime, normally the crowd reaction is a loud cheer and eager anticipation for the shootout contest to follow. But not on this night. Not in Hockeytown. The partisan Red Wings crowd, sprinkled with a healthy contingent of Buffalo fans in town for a Sabres and Bills doubleheader in D-Town, was somewhat apprehensive. They had seen Miller stop their powerful team cold. And now they would have to see their guys try to beat him one-on-one. Daniel Briere is the money guy for Buffalo in these shootouts and did not disappoint, and Pavel Datsyuk answered for Detroit. But it was Ales Kotalik who beat his countryman with an over-the-shoulder wrist shot in the fourth round. Just like that, the Sabres were winners in yet another shootout contest.

Miller tried as hard as possible to play down anything special about this win, but clearly this one was one to remember. “It’s no big deal beating Hasek. A win’s a win,” said Miller, trying as hard as possible to contain his glee but doing a pretty lousy job. For Miller, this had to be special, having played college hockey just 80 miles to the west for Michigan State, where he wore the number 39.

Say what you want about the speedy new NHL and that teams like Detroit are yesterday’s news. The Red Wings are still very potent, with tough and tenacious forechecking and a great goaltending tandem in Hasek and Chris Osgood. Coach Lindy Ruff gave Hasek every bit of respect in his comments. “He was an integral part of our franchise. He was one of the league’s premiere goaltenders…He still is in my eyes. When you face him you think of the times he won you games.” But that was then. Now it’s Miller time, and Coach Ruff said it all: “He had a fabulous night.”

TARO SEZ…

■ Sabres rank 29th… in ticket cost. According to Team Marketing Report, the average cost for a family of four to attend a Sabres game is $187.29, with an average ticket cost of $30.07. And the priciest team? Montreal, coming in at $337.27. More than half the teams raised ticket prices from last year.

■ About time! Sabres Rewind will air on MSG the day after select Sabres games. The game replay was an especially popular feature on the old Empire Sports Network.

■ Useless stat of the day: After five games the Sabres have three shootout wins. This compares to five shootout wins last season…the entire season.

■ Look out for newest Sabres goaltender Adam Dennis. Signed to a three-year contract and assigned to AHL Rochester, Dennis was a phenom for the OHL London Knights, leading them to the 2005 Memorial Cup championship.