The names changed, so did the faces and the numbers.
Only this time the numbers favored the Buffalo Sabres.
"This breaks some tension for sure," said Sabres left winger Dave Andreychuk after he scored a goal 67 seconds into overtime to lift the Sabres to a 4-3 victory over the Whalers Tuesday in the Hartford Civic Center.
"We definitely needed a win like this, and coming back against a team that beat us like this (4-3 in overtime Dec. 7) in our own building makes us feel better," added Andreychuk. "We beat them in the same way they beat us, in a close game that we pretty much dominated. This is going to help us get our confidence back."
There are a few reasons for that:
This ends a five-game losing streak, the Sabres longest of the season.
It's a win against a team that started the streak and came to the game having beaten the Sabres in two of three meetings (twice by 4-3 scores).
It comes on the heals of a trade that sent Mike Foligno, the team's captain, for Lou Franceschetti and Brian Curran.
It comes at a time when the Sabres were very much beginning to doubt themselves.
The biggest thing, however, was the fact Buffalo finally got its big-name players to make the big plays.
Andreychuk got the game-winner. Goaltender Daren Puppa got the win. Rick Vaive scored twice (his 11th and 12th goals). Dale Hawerchuk picked up three assists and Pierre Turgeon set up the game-winner (with more than a little help from Rob Ray).
Coach Rick Dudley also got into the act, cutting back to three lines when the game needed to be won and pushing his team to carry the play to the Whalers, especially after it fell behind.
"We could have folded a couple of times and we didn't. That showed me something and I'm pretty proud of us," Dudley said. "It's pretty obvious when you have guys getting on top of the puck, like Franceschetti did on the goal at the end of the period (Vaive's second in the second period) and Robbie Ray did in overtime, that something's going to happen. When you have people getting some jam with a lineup like that it makes a big difference. We worked really hard for that."
Dudley seemed to take the win as something of a personal vindication. He put together four lines, each of which had two players with definite offensive abilities and one with "a little jam."
Hawerchuk centering for the rugged Franceschetti and Vaive made up one of the units. Turgeon between Andreychuk and Ray was another. Neither Franceschetti nor Ray got assists but they did make the plays happen.
On the game-winner, Turgeon was battling with Todd Krygier and Carey Wilson was also moving into the play when Ray simply slammed into the pile. The collision allowed Turgeon to come free with the puck and as Hartford defenseman Ulf Samuelsson came across to try and snuff out Turgeon's pass, the Sabres center moved the puck behind the net to Andreychuk. Sensing the front would be free because of Samuelsson's commitment, Andreychuk moved quickly from behind the net and stuffed the puck under Hartford goaltender Darryl Reaugh.
"When I got it I knew he (Samuelsson) had gone over and that I had to get out in front fast," Andreychuk said. "The goalie went for it and he made a good move, but I got it just underneath him."
Buffalo led 3-2 on two even-strength goals by Vaive and a power-play goal from Uwe Krupp, but the Whalers pulled even when rookie Bobby Holik beat Puppa at the 10:53 mark of the third period. Buffalo had the puck in the Hartford end, but popped the puck out over the blue line. Wilson quickly headmanned the puck to Holik and the former Czech junior star let fly with a rising slap shot from about 20 feet away.
Former Sabre Paul Cyr and Krygier had the earlier goals for Hartford. The Sabres came back, however, and outshot the Whalers 2-0 in the overtime. Andreychuk's goal set off a genuine celebration for the Sabres who promptly mobbed the big left winger and then skated off with sticks held high in celebration.
"I think it's safe to say we really needed this one," said Ray. "This is the start of a two-game road trip (the team plays in Boston Thursday) and we needed to get something going. I don't think it would have been good for us to go in there (Boston Garden) without something going for us."
Especially if that something had been a tie or another loss.
The Sabres scratched defensemen Greg Brown, Brad Miller and Dean Kennedy, and forwards Jiri Sejba and Alexander Mogilny (after effects of a concussion). The Whalers scratched right winger Kevin Dineen (hip pointer), left winger Yvon Corriveau and defenseman Sylvain Cote, and were without defenseman Dave Babych (wrist injury) and former Sabre Randy Cunneyworth (fractured left fibula).