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Dominik Hasek just about has his mind made up about where he's going to be next season. Oh, you want to know? Well, he's still not quite prepared to announce his decision. He still has a few details to work out with his wife.

The two spoke again about their future over the weekend, but there was a sense Monday night in the Buffalo Sabres' dressing room that he's leaning toward playing another year in the National Hockey League. He's getting into that groove again. Hockey is fun, he's piling up shutouts, and the Sabres are winning.

Why wouldn't he come back?

The Dominator had 30 saves in a 2-0 win over the Eastern Conference-leading Ottawa Senators before a sellout crowd in HSBC Arena. It was Hasek's best performance this season. For all the concern over his play this year, he's tied for the league lead with seven shutouts.

"He's still good enough," defenseman Jason Woolley said. "I mean, come on. Every team in the league would be licking their chops to have him in the net. I don't care how old he is or how slow a start he got off to. It's games like this where it's a big game, and you see what he does."

What Hasek did Monday night was win a game for the Sabres. He won a goaltending duel with Patrick Lalime, who had allowed three goals in his previous three starts and was coming off a shutout victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday. The Sabres have won three straight.

"To beat these teams, your goaltending has to be rock solid," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We made some mistakes. He was there to cover them up. We don't win without that. He was rock solid."

J.P. Dumont's goal on the power play in the first period was the only one necessary for the Sabres. Miroslav Satan finished things off when he converted a pretty pass from Maxim Afinogenov with four minutes left. The Sabres are 10 games over .500 for the first time since April 9, 1999.

Hasek benefited from sound defense, but he also made several big saves, including one on Rob Zamuner from just outside the crease, in posting his 52nd career shutout and his 51st as a member of the Sabres. The Dominator is 6-1 in his last seven starts with a 1.56 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage. Those are Hasek-like numbers, which largely have been absent this season.

"I wasn't at my best and all of a sudden it changed," Hasek said. "Mentally, you have to play one or two (good) games and then you feel confidence. Confidence is important, but I don't feel stronger or in better shape than two or three months ago."

The Sabres are more concerned how he feels two or three months from now, when they get into the postseason. The Senators must have had a flashback Monday to April 21, 1999, when Hasek made 42 saves in the first game of the first-round playoff series. It sent the Sabres in the right direction to the Stanley Cup finals.

The Sabres believe he can do it again. Owners John and Tim Rigas threw their support behind Hasek last week when they said he wouldn't be traded. Hasek has allowed two goals and won three straight games since the announcement.

"It's a great feeling," he said. "It's a good feeling, but nothing changes how I approach the game. I approach it the same way two weeks ago, two months ago. There's nothing that changed in the way I practiced or how I play my game."

Another decision about his future will come this summer. The Sabres hold a $9 million option for next season on The Dominator. They've said last week that they can make it work financially if necessary. They first want to see how Hasek felt about coming back.

Remember when Hasek announced nearly two years ago that it was his last season because he was concerned that his son, Michael, was becoming too Americanized? Hasek has since regretted making that announcement. "I still feel bad about what I said two years ago about retirement," he said. "It was a mistake, and I know that."

It might be why he's mum now.

The money, obviously, can't be ignored. Hasek also wants to play again in the Winter Olympics in 2002 after leading the Czech Republic to the gold medal in 1998. The one remaining prize is the Stanley Cup.

Michael Hasek, who celebrated his 11th birthday at the game Monday, has been working more intensely with a tutor from the Czech Republic so he can better learn the language and customs back home. Hasek's wife, Alena, has been working for two hours daily with a language teacher from the University at Buffalo.

The lessons might not be necessary if he planned to retire after the season. But with Hasek, one never knows. On Monday, he wouldn't deny the suggestion he was returning. He wants to keep people thinking. He had the same power over the Senators.

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