Paper: Buffalo News, The (NY)
Title: EXPERIENCE UNDER PRESSURE SHOULD HELP SABRES IN FUTURE
Date: April 4, 2004
Section: SPORTS
Page: C5

The Sabres were desperate for Chris Drury last summer because they
were convinced he was a born winner. It was an easy concept for the
public to swallow. Look at his resume, they said, and the evidence is
splattered all the way back to Little League. The guy can turn coal
into diamonds.

Drury would be quick to say nobody is born a winner. Winning is not
a gift from above but an acquired talent. It's the result of hard
work and experience. It's playing smart under pressure. It's
maintaining confidence under duress. It's having great disdain for
losing, something the Sabres have lacked for years.The result for the
Sabres was the same with Drury as it was without him. They missed the
playoffs for the third straight year. He's missed them twice in two
years with two teams. He didn't have a great year statistically, but
he passed along plenty about winning. Funny how it won't mean a thing
unless they absorb lessons from losing.

"What everyone should learn -- what I've learned with other
teams and other situations -- is that two points in October are just
as important as two points in April," Drury said Friday night
after the Sabres were eliminated. "You can't take anything for
granted."

The Sabres were in playoff mode for the final two months because
they accomplished so little in the first three. By the time they woke
up, they were in trouble. But it forced them to play under pressure
over 30 games. It's a long time to maintain intensity, but it's much
like going to the Stanley Cup. They should benefit from the
experience.

It's what happened when the Sabres reached the Stanley Cup finals in
1999. People look back and think Dominik Hasek carried them there,
but the truth is they grew from losing in the Eastern Conference
finals in '98. They wouldn't have made the conference finals if they
didn't grow from getting bounced in '97 after winning the division.

"It's about as close as you can get to the playoffs,"
Drury said. "Some guys haven't been in it, or they haven't been
in it in a while. Every night was a must-win for us. That's what the
playoffs are. I like the way we responded as a team. I like the way
individuals responded."

Martin Biron was inconsistent much of the season, but he proved he
could play when the stakes are raised. The Sabres needed
confirmation, and so did he. Henrik Tallinder was a mess early, but
from experience came confidence and with confidence came improvement.
Dmitri Kalinin made strides toward becoming an elite defenseman.
Derek Roy and Milan Bartovic, the two kid forwards, showed they
belong in this league. Daniel Briere never played in so many big
games and proved he's dependable when his teammates need him most.
Jochen Hecht showed he's the best two-way player on the team, better
when the heat is turned up.

Certain signs are there. Now where do they go from here?

Trash talk Taylor-made

It's great to see Tim Taylor and Peter Bondra getting their mouths
in shape for the playoffs. Taylor, the Lightning's third-line center,
popped off in the St. Petersburg Times last week when asked about
Bondra's trade to Ottawa.

"I don't really like him as a player," Taylor said.
"I think he's selfish. He adds that extra element, I guess, but
I always looked at him from the outside as a selfish player. I know
there were rumors he was coming here, but I'm glad he didn't."

Said Bondra: "I don't know who Tim Taylor is. I'm not sure if
he's still an NHL player. Of course I was surprised to see that in
the paper, but who is he? Oh, a third-line center? Maybe that's why I
couldn't remember him. I guess he knows a little better than anyone
else. Maybe I should pay attention."

Canucks gaining strength

It sounds ludicrous, but the Canucks say they're building a stronger
playoff team without Todd Bertuzzi than they had with him. Bertuzzi's
suspension forced the Canucks into revamping their lines and paying
more attention to defense.

Vancouver allowed just four goals during its recent four-game
winning streak and slipped past Colorado in the Pacific Division. The
Canucks were getting production from everywhere. Geoff Sanderson, a
disappointment this season in Columbus, has been terrific in his
second stint with Vancouver while playing with Henrik and Daniel
Sedin.

"Nobody expected this except the guys in this room," said
forward Matt Cooke, who replaced Bertuzzi on the top line. "We
never quit. We were going through tough times, but we never gave up.
It made us stronger as a team."

Isles win suggested trade

Mark Parrish and Mattias Weinhandl were the two most oft-mentioned
names when it appeared the Sabres were considering trading Miroslav
Satan to the Islanders. The deal was never completed, in part because
Buffalo equated trading Satan to giving up on the postseason.

At first, it looked like the Sabres made the right move in keeping
Satan because he was on a tear. Over the eight games going into the
weekend, however, it appeared the Islanders wound up winning the
no-trade.

Parrish had six goals, including two winners, and one assist in the
six games before Friday. Weinhandl had a goal and four assists in a
nine-game stretch. Satan had one goal and one assist in eight games
before playing the Maple Leafs and Canadiens to close out the season.
He had no points in a four-game stretch.

Bergeron's up to speed

It's amazing how players slip through the cracks these days with the
number of scouts roaming North America and beyond.

Edmonton defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron was named the top junior
defenseman in Canada in 2001 but was undrafted because, at 5-foot-9
and 190 pounds, scouts thought he was too small for the NHL. Well,
nobody told him.

Bergeron had nine goals and 26 points in 53 games, second among
Oilers defensemen in scoring, and he was a plus-13. He is on pace for
40 points over a full season, which would put him among the top 20
scoring defensemen in the NHL. He hasn't suffered on defense because
teams can't catch him.

"The play doesn't die with Bergy," coach Craig MacTavish
said. "He really likes to transport the puck."

Quotable

Flyers center Jeremy Roenick before Friday's rematch against the
Senators in the first game since the March 5 slugfest: "We can't
have stupidity in our locker room and we can't have stupidity on the
ice. The stupidity has been all used up plus some in the National
Hockey League this year. The stupidity meter's broken."

Around the boards

If you read between the lines, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff didn't think
highly of winger Ales Kotalik's pain-management skills. Ruff made a
point of saying Kotalik has been slow coming back from a shoulder
injury while Alexei Zhitnik would have played with a broken bone in
his. Ruff often played through shoulder problems during his career.

The Oilers have made it clear they want Petr Nedved back, but they
don't want to pick up his $4.5 million option. They are hoping he'll
play for $3.5 million with the idea he'll be the No. 1 center for a
speedy team. Look for Nedved pal Radek Dvorak to help in the
recruiting process.

Alexander Daigle's late-season tear gave the Wild a 20-goal scorer,
leaving the Hurricanes as the only team in the league without one
going into their final two games. Daigle had four goals in two games
and six in a four-game stretch. Josef Vasicek was the 'Canes' last
hope with 19 going into the weekend.

It appeared going into the weekend the winner of the NHL
goal-scoring title would have the lowest output since Gordie Howe led
the league with 44 goals in the 70-game season in 1962-63. Jarome
Iginla and Rick Nash had 40 goals each going into their final two
games. Ilya Kovalchuk had 39 with two contests left.

Martin St. Louis grabbed a few more votes for the Hart Trophy when
he scored his league-leading eighth short-handed goal and added the
winner in a 4-3 win over Florida. The Lightning had about 100 fans
stick around after the game to watch the Bruins-Caps game on the
scoreboard. The two teams tied, locking up first place for Tampa Bay
in the Eastern Conference.

Country singer Garth Brooks was among the fans pulling for the
Islanders last week because they helped him with his Teammate for
Kids foundation. Brooks was so impressed that every player signed up
to help that he performed a private concert for the Isles last week.

Who's Hot?

Ray Scapinello. The veteran linesman is putting away his whistle
after a 33-year career that started in Memorial Auditorium. You would
be hard pressed to find anyone in any sport who maintained such a
high level for half as long.

Matthew Barnaby. The former Sabres, Penguins, Lightning and Rangers
pest had four goals and eight points in his first 10 games with the
Avalanche. Toss in a couple of winners, and he's made the Avs a
better team. And they've made him a better player.

Scott Gomez. The Devils center was on the trading block 14 months
ago, but he's been New Jersey's best forward down the stretch. He had
six goals and 22 points in 16 games in March, which is why he was
named player of the month.

Who's Not?

Jose Theodore. How the Canadiens goalie performs will determine how
far they go in the playoffs. He stumbled into the weekend with an 0-4
record, a 3.73 goals-against average and an .870 save percentage in
his previous four starts.

Joe Thornton. The Bruins' big man left Thursday's game with an
"upper-body" injury, and the word is he's fighting off sore
ribs. The Bruins need him at full strength for the playoffs or
they'll be out in short order.

Steve Yzerman. Nobody expects the Red Wings captain to dominate at
this stage of his career, but he went into the weekend with one goal
in 15 games and two in 22 contests. Maybe he's saving himself for the
playoffs.

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com