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STAUBER NEEDS A LITTLE HELP FROM HIS FRIENDS

ROBB STAUBER IS feeling the heat that comes from walking in Dominik Hasek's spotlight.

And not just because the goal light has been giving him an artificial tan.

"I was working on my car the other night and I had the radio on," the newest Buffalo Sabres goaltender said. "The guy who was doing the show and a caller they had said that they might as well put Dominik (Hasek) in tonight (Tuesday) because he's better one-handed.

"Those kind of things are tough to take."

I wouldn't put it up there with a cold, hard slap in the face, but the burn is about the same.

Not even a solid performance against one of the very best teams in the National Hockey League could erase the fact that Stauber is still a giant question mark for this team. He played to the best of his abilities in a 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. He knows looking pretty good wasn't enough. He knows he'll have to do better. He can only hope his teammates believe that he can.

In his mind, there is no doubt.

"I think more of myself than that (caller) and hopefully the team here does, too," he said. "In a way, things like that are inspiring because every night, no matter where you are, you have to prove yourself. I don't care what you've done in the past. In this business it's not what you did for me, it's what are you going to do for me. I accept that. I wouldn't be here if I didn't."

Stauber can't play much better than he did Tuesday night. He was beaten for two goals by Luc Robitaille, one of the all-time scoring greats in the National Hockey League, and for one by Kevin Stevens, one of the premier left wingers in the sport.

Lots of goaltenders have done a whole lot worse. One need only go back to the last time these two teams met and Hasek was touched for six goals.

The only solution now is for the Sabres to find a way to play as a team. Until Hasek comes back it will be Stauber in goal and anyone who's healthy up front. No amount of crying or whining is going to change that. Stauber has already accepted it.

"I've been playing hockey for 21 years and I don't think you fool people at this level. You have to believe in yourself regardless of what other people think. You have to believe you have the ability to do the job."

Beliefs aside, the reality is that three goals per game would be a career low for Stauber. He came to this season with a 3.41 goals-against average. Not great, but not unacceptable in the wild Western Conference. Yet it's different here in the East. For him to be a winner here, he has to get better. So do his teammates.

"You look at him and you can say he has pressure on him, sure," said Dave Hannan. "But there should be some pressure on us, too. He made some saves early that kept us in the game and he made some late that gave us a chance to tie. We have a goaltender who gave us a chance to win the game and we can't ask for more than that. What we needed to do for him was get more than two goals."

There's reason to believe -- especially off the weekend performance -- that not all the Sabres think that way. It's also fair to say that this team is at a crisis point. In the past, they found ways to win despite the adversity that comes with injuries. Saturday and Sunday they showed they weren't sure anymore. They followed that up with a decent effort Tuesday and still didn't win.

If the team blames Stauber for that, the next few games could produce disastrous results. If they accept his best and give their own it might be a different story.

Either way it leaves the kid in the spotlight.

And it's really, really hot.

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