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KHMYLEV'S PERFORMANCE IS ONE FOR THE AGES

THE GODS of hockey went to their own video replay machine Saturday night.

First they dusted off the master tapes from 30 years ago. Pleased with what they saw they reached down and made it happen all over again.

In hockey, that's the way legends are born and born again and Yuri Khmylev is now a certified legend of the game.

There were heroes galore Saturday night and no one should overlook the role of role players like Wayne Presley, Philippe Boucher and especially Rob Ray in Buffalo's 5-3 triumph over the New Jersey Devils in Game Four of their Stanley Cup playoff series. They stepped up when it mattered most.

Still, Khmylev broke the National Hockey League record for goals scored with a broken bone in his leg and if you weren't there to see it, you're going to lie about that today and for 30 years of tomorrows. On April 23, 1994, 30 years to the night after Bobby Baun stuffed his broken leg back into his boot and scored the goal that propelled the Toronto Maple Leafs to an eventual Stanley Cup championship in beating the Detroit Red Wings, Khmylev did the same for the Buffalo Sabres.

And he did it twice.

"I know who he (Baun) is," Khmylev said through interpreter George Popovich in the Buffalo Sabres locker room. "I've heard the story."

Hearing it is one thing, living it is something else.

This was a game where the Buffalo Sabres were either going to stand up and be counted or be counted out for the series. It would have been easy for Khmylev not to answer the call. The pain in his leg throbs through him every moment he is on the ice. When the game ends he retreats to the medical room faster than the Pittsburgh Penguins can fold a tent. But during the game it's a matter of playing mentally and physically tough.

That's when the game isn't just a game anymore.

"When I go on to the ice I try and forget about it," he said. "I've never had an injury like this before and I try not to even think about it. That's the best way to get through it."

For Khmylev, who is still not comfortable doing interviews on his own, that may be easier done than said. The effort is formidable.

His pregame ritual includes icing the swollen leg until it's numb and then the trainers tape him so tight people feel obligated to ask if they can sign the cast. After that, he jams his leg into his skate boot and prepares to play two games; one on the ice, the other in his head.

Medical science has come a long way and surely if you strip the myth away from the legend, Baun likely was no orthopedic miracle. But a hairline fracture of the fibula is not without a lot of pain, and Khmylev's might have been a lot worse.

Jersey defenseman Scott Stevens tried to saw him in half in the early minutes of the game. When Khmylev came down from the gluteus maximus-over-teacups flip, he flopped all over the ice. Everyone in the building held their breath. Both shaken and stirred, he got up and came back hard.

His first goal was a huge blast off a setup from Alex Mogilny. The second one was a one-man rush on a goalie that simply doesn't give it up. Out of the penalty box, in one-on-one, forehand, backhand, head feint and then a backhand, top shelf, glove side.

"I saw that goal and the one by Elvis (Wayne Presley) and I told myself no more," said Sabres goaltender Dominik Hasek. "Those guys work so hard, give so much. You have to be like that when someone else is trying so hard."

After four games, it's dead even and there's still no telling which way this series is going. Only one team will emerge with a chance to keep its dream alive, but 30 years from now people will still be talking about the man who scored two goals while playing with a broken bone in his left leg.

They will tell their children and their grandchildren.

The hockey gods will be happy with that.

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